“The Serene Squall”
Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 1, Episode 7 – Debuted Thursday, June 16, 2022
Written by: Beau DeMayo & Sarah Tarkoff
Directed by Sydney Freeland
Strange New Worlds brings back another classic storyline in order to do some fascinating character exploration.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“This sector is the quadrant’s version of the Wild West.”
The Enterprise is on a humanitarian mission on the frontier of Federation space. A kindly Dr. Aspen convinced Starfleet to send Captain Pike in search of three lost colony ships and warns him about the dangers of a dangerous pirate ship named the Serene Squall (episode title!) that has been harassing colonists in the sector. After finding the debris from two colony ships, the crew assumes the third has been taken by the pirates with the goal of using the colonists as their booty and selling them into slavery. Pike is not having it—and isn’t going to wait for Starfleet to give him the OK to leave Federation space to save them. A distress call leads them to an asteroid field, which turns out to be a trap made of lasers that will impede any move they make–as delicately noted by Ortegas–resulting in “kaboom.” Spock sorts out the solution of how to destroy the asteroid powering the net, although he struggles with Pike’s insistence to go with his “gut” to decide between two equally possible choices.
Dr. Aspen seeks Spock out to offer counsel; they have taken a keen interest in him since coming on board and show a deep understanding of Vulcan culture. Spock was already out of sorts, starting off the episode with an awkward remote sex chat with T’Pring that sent him to his buddy Christine Chapel for more advice, this time on how to deal with his girlfriend’s strange new interest in human sexuality. Aspen urges Spock to find a new balance between his halves, but he isn’t ready for that, asking “If I am not Human or Vulcan, what am I?” Before this profound question of identity can be addressed, the third colony ship is found. Pike leads an armed landing party to free the hostages but finds an empty cargo hold. It’s a trap! While Pike and team are captured, other pirates board the Enterprise with firefights and Number One quickly locks out the ship’s controls. Spock embraces his Vulcan side to take out a few bad guys before escaping the bridge with Dr. Aspen.
“We’re starting a mutiny!”
Pike meets the pirates, led by Remy, who informs him the supposed colony ship is actually the Serene Squall itself, now home to Number One and the rest of the caged Enterprise crew. After some small talk and complimenting his handsomeness, Remy starts torturing Pike for the command codes, but even with a bloody lip and his signature coif mangled, Chris holds his ground, suggesting he instead cook the pirates a decent meal. That’s one ballsy Boy Scout. Using a bit of clever social engineering, Pike manipulates Remy into a plan to sell the crew to the Klingons—which sounds bad but it’s all part of his plan to drive a wedge between Remy and his pirate crew.
On the Enterprise, Spock and Aspen sneak through the Enterprise, and separately, Nurse Chapel does the same, showing off her bedside manner by taking out some pirates with a hypospray. Dr. Aspen recommends they leave the ship, revealing a personal connection by telling Spock the pirates killed their Vulcan husband, which is why they left Starfleet for humanitarian work. Spock isn’t leaving, and instead arms them as they head to engineering to find Christine trying to get past that lockout to send a distress call. Spock uses his codes to take control of the ship, but it turns out to be another trap: Dr. Aspen is actually the dread pirate Captain Angel. On the bridge, Angel gets comfortable in the captain’s chair and informs Spock that their whole colonist sob story plan to capture the ship was actually all about him, and it isn’t just because they think he’s cute.
“The logical move is to surrender.”
Captain Angel’s true motivation is revealed in a call to T’Pring, who happens to work at a Vulcan rehabilitation center (don’t call it a prison, it’s nice). They want an exchange of loves: Spock for a Vulcan named Xaverius. Angel knows T’Pring’s bond with Spock will get her to agree, and they’re proven right as T’Pring shows up at the agreed exchange spot, but now it’s time for Spock to spring a trap of his own. He apologizes to T’Pring for giving in to his human desires, and his pal Christine catches on and “reveals” they’ve been having an affair. They sell it with a very convincing kiss, and even if jaded Angel isn’t buying, it’s enough for T’Pring to sever the marriage bond and therefore any obligation. That’s right, Angel got Spockblocked. Before they can take out the Vulcan ship, the Serene Squall shows up and starts firing on the Enterprise, locking out the pirates once again. The mutiny plan worked and Pike is now in command of the pirate ship. Angel knows how to read a room and transports away to their secret hidden shuttle, leaving the rest of the pirates at the mercy of Starfleet.
With Captain Pike and his hair back in place, Spock faces T’Pring, who says she saw right through the “gambit” with Chapel, dismissing any notion that he could really have feelings for her. Apparently, denial is also not a river on Vulcan. Inspired by his human passion roleplaying, T’Pring suggests a “rebonding”… wink, wink. Christine later tells Spock she knows the score: He is with T’Pring, and therefore as an honorable man, she is firmly in the friend zone. But she is curious about Xaverius, noting that Spock had indicated he knew him. He reveals that it is an assumed name for another son of Sarek, one who has rejected logic, someone he was told to avoid “at all costs.” That’s right. Say it with me… Sybok!
Finding an identity
Another solid Strange New Worlds episode provides an interesting spin on the old ship-gets-taken-over scenario, with added focus on developing the character of Spock. Strong themes of things not appearing to be what they seem and identity tie it together, but some abrupt tonal changes hold the episode back.
Ethan Peck carried much of the weight of the episode, with guest star Jesse James Keitel’s inspired casting to help explore Spock’s big issue of finding the right balance between his Human and Vulcan halves. This is an issue he won’t resolve fully until the TOS movie era when he rejects the Kolinahr, a ritual he is still very much looking forward to here. We can also see how his relationship with T’Pring wraps into him seeing himself as Vulcan, dashing any hope for exploring the clear connection he has with Chapel. Keitel showed range as both the syrupy Dr. Aspen and the ruthless Captain Angel, both of whom had the same message for Spock to reject trying to fit himself into boxes so he can find his own identity. Spock has always been a character who appealed to those who feel like outsiders, including many in the LGBTQ+ community, and so Keitel (as a nonbinary trans actress playing a nonbinary character) delivering this message to Spock was particularly on point.
Shortcuts to the long game
The big twist—Angel’s reveal as the pirate captain—was unnecessarily given away early on when Remy revealed the colony ship was actually the Serene Squall, indicating that Aspen was at least working with the pirates. Captain Pike’s little story of fomenting mutiny on the Serene Squall was a lot of fun, allowing Anson Mount and other members of the cast to play some broad humor, and the snappy chemistry between Pike and Ortegas continues to be one of the highlights of the series; Melissa Navia has great timing, too. Having Pike beat the pirates with his wits was classic Star Trek; however, the almost sitcom-y tone of this subplot didn’t fit well with the main story. Pike’s hilarious cliché pirate talk at the end almost made it all worth it, but this comedic tone undercut the stakes of the episode, with apparently no casualties after supposedly ruthless pirates took the Enterprise and the crew fought to reclaim their ship. There’s also is a lot of handwaving needed to buy how easy it was for Angel to lure the exact ship they needed into this trap, with either some elaborate offscreen detailing or an unforgivable lack of due diligence back at Starfleet.
Some of the plot shortcuts are due to the episodic nature of the series and the need to begin and wrap up a story efficiently, but we can see the where Strange New Worlds is also effective with serialization when it comes to the characters. The show has been playing the long game here, setting up many elements that paid off like elements of the Spock/T’Pring relationship, Spock’s growing chemistry with Chapel, and even the setup of T’Pring as a rehabilitation officer to loop her into a story that will bring in Sybok. That also appears to be leading somewhere, although no actor was yet credited as Spock’s half-brother initially introduced in Star Trek V. It’s still a good bet the series will return to him, and there is plenty of room in canon to explore this unusual, yet potentially fascinating Vulcan. And speaking of long games, the episode also subtly introduced the character of Stonn as a rehabilitation colleague of T’Pring’s, setting up that she eventually will choose him over Spock in “Amok Time.” This episode also showed how even though Jess Bush’s Chapel is very much different from the demure Chapel of TOS, there’s some strong connective tissue to the TOS character. Underneath the bravado of SNW’s Chapel, there’s tremendous vulnerability as she accepts her fate to be friend-zoned by the man she’s falling for, smitten by his integrity as well as his confidence… and that passionate kiss.
A fun pirate story mixed together with a thoughtful exploration of Spock’s identity adds up to yet another win for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
- This is the second Strange New Worlds writing credit for both co-producer Sarah Tarkoff and supervising producer Beau DeMayo.
- This is the first Star Trek credit for director Sydney Freeland.
- Stardate 1997.9.
- Once again, Bruce Horak’s Hemmer does not appear.
- Angel (as Dr. Aspen) called Pike “Starfleet’s Boy Scout,” and Number One said it was in his file. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan David Marcus calls Captain Kirk an “overgrown Boy Scout.” Captain Archer of the NX-01 was a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout.
- Using remote codes to take over a Starfleet ship is a move that Kirk will use on Khan Noonien-Singh when he takes over the USS Reliant in Star Trek II.
- The laser trap used by the pirates resembled the web-like tractor field used by Tholians first seen in TOS’ “The Tholian Web.”
- Pike’s “Alpha Braga IV” plan to foment mutiny with the pirates could be named for longtime Star Trek writer/producer Brannon Braga.
- Sybok was described as a V’tosh ka’tur, or a Vulcan without logic, first referenced in the Enterprise episode “Fusion.”
- The location of the Ankeshtan K’Til Vuclan Criminal Rehabilitation Center was on the 3rd moon of Omicron Lyrae, which is a reference to a recurring location in the X universe of videogames.
- Dr. Aspen was a counselor on Starbase 12, which has been mentioned in multiple Trek series starting with TOS’ “Space Seed.”
- Remy’s plan to sell the Enterprise crew to the Klingons was to start at Qu’Vat Colony, which was a Klingon outpost in the 22nd century seen in Star Trek: Enterprise.
- Like a good pirate ship, the Serene Squall had a functional ship’s wheel.
- On the Serene Squall, Remy sat at (presumably Captain Angel’s) desk, which had what looked like a Vulcan Kal-toh game.
- Did anyone go back to look for the real stranded Dr. Aspen? Hope so!
More to come
Every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek Podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe and discusses the latest episode. The podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Pocket Casts, Stitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network.
New episodes of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds debut on Thursdays exclusively on Paramount+ in the U.S., Latin America, Australia and the Nordics. The series airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada. In New Zealand, it is available on TVNZ, and in India on Voot Select. Strange New Worlds will arrive via Paramount+ in select countries in Europe when the service launches later this year, starting with the UK and Ireland in June.