Thursday, May 5, 2022

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' - Pike Returns to the Enterprise When Una's Mission Goes Awry in 'Strange New Worlds'

Paramount+'s Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - Episode 1.01 "Strange New Worlds"

When one of Pike's officers goes missing while on a secret mission for Starfleet, Pike has to come out of self-imposed exile. He must navigate how to rescue his officer, while struggling with what to do with the vision of the future he's been given.

"Strange New Worlds" was directed by Akiva Goldsman with story by Akiva Goldsman, Alex Kurtzman & Jenny Lumet and teleplay by Akiva Goldsman

The modern-day Star Trek franchise on Paramount+ isn't all that concerned with episodic storytelling. It wants to be more ambitious. Each year the various shows feel the pressure to go bigger. They have to be more epic and consequential than anything that was previously produced. It's gotten so massive it can be difficult to remember the initial impulse behind the series. In the original format, it was all about the joy of exploration. The Federation seeks to welcome new worlds to their collective cause in the hopes of uniting the various species in existence. It's always the mission of Starfleet to lead with the desire of understanding. They won't intervene in the development of a species. They do represent the introduction to greater exploration. It's a thrilling and exciting venture. Strange New Worlds aspires to get back to that format. This premiere features a completely contained story. Sure, it still features consequential actions from the last time Captain Pike, Number One and Spock were seen in this universe. They are dealing with the aftermath of saving the universe by creating a way for the U.S.S. Discovery to travel 900 years into the future. That occurred back in the second season of Star Trek: Discovery. These three characters became instantly a notable part of the fabric of this new worldview. And so, it was no surprise the creative team wanted to explore them more fully with their own adventures. And yet, the U.S.S. Enterprise has its own storied past. Everyone has to be careful with the developments. It was always annoying when the Discovery had the spore drive when no such technology would have been viable in the timeline. It stood out. It made them more at home in the distant future. That order has been restored. That show found its footing even though it too is always dealing with existential threats. Here, Pike is plagued by knowing how and when he will die. That haunts his every action. He can't see a reflection of himself without being dragged to that painful future. He has experienced it already. He doesn't know if he can lead as the same man he once was. A first contact mission has gone awry. He must carry the responsibility for how civilizations react once their futures were saved. The wormhole allowed Discovery to travel to the future. It also made previously undiscovered species aware of their greater existence in the universe. And so, patterns were broken. The Federation knows how species evolve. Every extension of the world features similar developments. And now, the Enterprise crew are confronted by something entirely new.

However, the adventure they face isn't too far off from Earth's own history. That means the deviation isn't too severe. It can be rectified if Pike and Spock are willing to break a few rules. They have the freedom to do so because the Federation can't reveal the classified truth behind the Discovery. That must always remain a secret even though it weighs on those with the clearance to know what happened. That can't really be the basis for storytelling in this show though. It can't simply be the characters yearning for and wondering what they lost. Those connections were built up as important. The Discovery characters have moved on. It's still raw for the Enterprise crew. It's a relatively recent development. One that has to be carefully managed. Pike can find inspiration by those he serves with. He didn't believe he could return to the captain's chair. He certainly has awkward moments. He does retain command though. Everyone trusts that will happen. They look to him for guidance. He saves lives. That's what this crew does. That's been at their core from the very first days they enlisted in Starfleet. This is an aspirational organization. They save species no matter what threats they face. They recognize that one life can make a huge difference in the scope of the universe. The new security officer was once saved by Una. She was barely an ensign at the time. That one interaction was absolutely life-changing. It placed La'an on the path to being capable of saving Una one day as well. The universe loves being narratively ironic and satisfying in that way. People are meant to comment on it and appreciate the nuances. Plus, everyone should feel excited about what they do. Yes, the stakes are insane. Pike decides to intervene to prevent a planet from descending into mass chaos. He wants to save lives when the leaders are too hellbent on destroying each other. Pike had a hand in weaponizing this society. He acknowledges that and makes his intervention more pronounced. He shares his experiences with the entire planet. It's not just a show to get two leaders to better communicate. It's playing towards the aspirations each individual must apply and appreciate. Pike sees that potential within everyone. He has to believe in it himself from time to time as well. A better future is on the horizon. The Enterprise can share that glory for this new world that mirrors 21st century Earth. And then, Pike can captain his ship to the great unknown. The beauty of exploration is out there. That's their mission. It's just as powerful as every other threat that has grown from the franchise more recently. It's also getting back to the heart of what this series was always meant to be.