Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2, Episode 5 – Debuted Thursday, July 13, 2023
Written by Kathryn Lyn & Henry Alonso Myers
Directed by Jordan Canning
A lighthearted episode delivers mixed results with a handful of laughs along with some big character implications.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“The beings now match”
As the Enterprise takes its time en route to survey an energy anomaly in the Vulcan system, the crew has some downtime. Christine Chapel uses this opportunity to prep for her fellowship interview with the Vulcan Science Academy while also trying to avoid Spock because—as noted by Ortegas—things “are kind of weird” between them. For his part, the science officer is taking the time to hone his Vulcan emotional control, which helps him keep his cool around the untidy Sam Kirk. It also allows him to partake in leisure activities like hanging out with crewmates in the lounge (and not getting the jokes), and taking cooking lessons with Pike (even though he can’t smell the food due to nasal suppressants (because humans stink)). With everything under control, Spock is content and looking forward to a ceremonial dinner with his fiancé T’Pring’s parents (a “big deal”). However, Pike bursts this bubble of complacency when he tells Spock he has been paired up with Chapel for the survey of that moon anomaly. On the shuttle, Spock gets it together enough to be polite until Chapel accuses him of avoiding him. Luckily, unusual readings from the anomaly save him from having to talk about it as they find a vortex above the ruins of the ancient Kerkhovian civilization. Before you can say gravitational spacetime rupture, they are pulled in and Spock blacks out, only to wake up in sickbay feeling kind of a lot… as in feeling feelings because, well… the aliens turned him into a human. WTF?
Turns out the Kerkhovians aren’t as extinct as imagined. They repaired the shuttle… and Spock. Finding their calling card, Uhura contacts an amorphous energy being called “Yellow” who lets Pike know everything is fine, “remediation has been made,” and no need to thank them for sorting out Spock’s “mixed instructions.” Bye. Spock is feeling all sorts of emotions over the prospect of being stuck like this and is in a total panic over the “serious disaster” posed by facing T’Pring’s judgmental mother. Not to worry, Pike already let the future in-laws know Spock was injured and canceled the dinner. So while Christine works on fixing his DNA, Spock jumps back into life on the Enterprise with gusto and even a smile. Now he laughs at the jokes, enjoys the cooking smells, and gets honest with messy Sam Kirk. However, the rush of emotions soon overwhelms him to the point where he starts scarfing bacon to the point of nausea, nearly breaking Una’s arm as he overdoes it with a joke, and needs to be restrained from throttling Sam over leaving too many crumbs. La’an has a moment with Spock to settle him, sorting out that he is essentially like an adolescent, smartly described as a “cocktail of anger, fear, sеxual attraction and, uh, hunger.” With a little impulse control he can get the hang of being a human and deal with his “strange feelings stirring”… and oh, my eyes are up here, mister.
“Do I really sound like that?”
In sickbay, Christine is struggling to find a fix to reset Spock and isn’t persuaded by M’Benga’s attempts to assuage her survival guilt over the accident. Because she’s so distracted, her fellowship call ends up a disaster as she faces a very rude interviewer (even for a Vulcan). When she runs into Spock afterward, he senses her pain and empathizes with her by saying “Vulcans can be such jerks,” even offering a hug. She notes this is a bit different for him and he agrees, oversharing, “Sometimes I don’t cry in the shower.” (He kids.)
Spock’s next test is reuniting with his mother, so he hides his human ears with a silly knit cap. A flustered Pike backs him up, agreeing that it’s a regulation cap. T’Pring’s family is threatening to call off the wedding, but Amanda has gotten things back on track by getting them to agree to hold the ceremonial dinner on the Enterprise. She is there to prep him for the dinner ritual and the knit cap isn’t enough to hide Spock’s real “I don’t care about logic!” feelings over the news. Amanda sees through the hat and sees her son is now as human as she is. “Hi mom.” Aww. With T’Pring’s mom looking for any excuse, Amanda says they have to stick with the plan, so she is going to have to teach her son how to do something against his Vulcan nature… learn to lie like a human. Let the hijinks commence!
Naturally, the plan starts with some fake ears, courtesy of Dr. M’Benga. Uhura leads a class on how to talk like a Vulcan, with La’an, Una, and Ortegas chiming in with advice like “more robotic” and tips on how to raise just one eyebrow. Fascinating… and pretty funny. The V’Shal dinner is comprised of three rituals, starting with serving the family tea—which requires holding the scalding hot pot as you get the pour just right. Amanda demonstrates, revealing time on Vulcan has taught her a thing or two about suppressing pain. You go, Mom. The second ritual involves the parents listing off all the faults of their children’s prospective mates. Fun! The final ritual involves mind-melding with your parent to share a childhood memory, and Spock struggles in the practice session. Una chimes in that he looks constipated, which doesn’t help. The only hope rests with the medical team coming up with a cure before they get that far. A stressed T’Pring comes on board complaining of her overbearing mother, and Spock doesn’t have the heart (or perhaps too much heart) to burden her with the news he isn’t exactly Vulcan anymore. Soon enough it’s time to meet the parents and mom T’Pil arrives as advertised, complete with a fusillade of passive-aggressive condescension. On the other hand, dad Sevet seems cool when not kowtowing to his imperious wife, who comments on the “odor” of Captain Pike’s quarters and even insults his amazing Vulcan tevmel appetizers. That’s too far.
“I miss him as he was”
After exhausting everything Starfleet medicine has to offer and with only 24 hours left before the change in Spock becomes irreversible, Christine starts looking for other options. The idea is to go back to the source, and even Ortegas hesitates—briefly—before agreeing to fly her into another dimension to talk to some ancient aliens. Uhura comes along to help and suggests they “wedge” the shuttle into the interdimensional tunnel, where things go all wobbly until the trio finds themselves in a blobby void where they meet “Blue,” a bureaucratic Kehrkovian not interested in listening about they messed up Spock. Eventually, they get through to Yellow in this quantum customer service center, who wants to know who is lodging the complaint because “friends” aren’t allowed to do so outside the response period. Egged on by her friends and without a box to check “it’s complicated,” Christine admits Spock is more than a friend to her, and even though he is more fun and easy to talk to as a human, she wants the original recipe back… the Spock she was “connected to.” As they await a reply to their complaint, Yellow reveals that Spock risked his own life by diverting the shuttle’s shields to protect Christine during their accident. Fascinating.
Back at Pike’s place, Spock white knuckles through teapot pain, which leads to the “awareness” ritual when T’Pil unloads, accusing him of abandoning T’Pring to gallivant around the galaxy. Siding with Sarek, she calls him a failed son and failed Vulcan. Luckily, the timer cuts her off and Spock can excuse himself to go scream into a cushion. Pike tries to buy time by insisting they honor an Earth tradition: playing charades. T’Pil is skeptical, but Sevet is intrigued by “the sacred word.” Just in time, Christine shows up, pulling Spock back into the bathroom where things get tense as the pair struggles with how they “feel many things.” The devastated nurse injects Spock with the cure, allowing him to finish the prenuptial rituals with a successful mind meld with his mom. T’Pil acknowledges the conclusion of the dinner and backhand compliments Spock for pulling it off, despite his “handicap” and being “diluted.” Racist much? Spock has had enough, taking off his pointy ears and vigorously defending his human side, specifically his mother who has suffered this kind of Vulcan judgment her whole life. T’Pil can only sit there, chastened by this genuine moment. Two words, first word, one syllable. Sounds like… truck?
Later, T’Pring lets Spock know she is not happy to be the only one on the ship who didn’t know the truth. She has shown him nothing but support, understanding, and acceptance for his human side, and with this breach of trust, it’s time they take a break. As for Christine, this whole experience filled her with a new confidence, so when she gets denied that fellowship she tells the prissy Vulcan Science Academy guy they aren’t ready for her, oh and by the way, he can read all about her groundbreaking medical mission where she encountered interdimensional ancient aliens when she publishes her paper. So there! Spock has a nice goodbye with his mom, talking about the memory she shared of the first time Spock was accepted by the other Vulcan kids. He could feel what it was like for her and just how hard it is to love a Vulcan. Reflecting on this gives Spock a new insight as he realizes he must talk to Christine, only to find her already at his door. Now that he and T’Pring are taking time apart, he feels conflicted over his other feelings for someone else, feelings he doesn’t want to suppress any longer. She gets the hint and they kiss and then kiss some more, leaving questions about what this all means for another episode.
A funny thing happened on the way to Vulcan
“Charades” is definitely one of the episodes where the new season is taking one of its vaunted “big swings,” and while there are a lot of fun moments along the way, it doesn’t entirely hit its mark. Perhaps one of the issues is that this episode almost feels like a bit of redo of the season one episode “Spock Amok,” another romcom-style episode with a wacky sci-fi setup, in that case, Spock and T’Pring switching bodies. Maybe because it was first, “Spock Amok” is the funnier of the two. Regardless, “Charades” was well crafted as a comedic episode, helped along by director Jordan Canning, a veteran of TV comedy, as well as co-writer Kathryn Lyn, who has jumped over to Strange New Worlds after writing 10 episodes of Star Trek: Lower Decks, including the fan-favorite episode “Wej duj.” Together they delivered an episode of Star Trek that seems inspired by the best of TV classics like I Love Lucy with all the hijinks surrounding hiding Spock being human. Humor is always relative, but some gags fell a bit flat, especially following elements derived from old-fashioned sitcom tropes like the overbearing mother-in-law with a henpecked husband.
The Strange New Worlds cast were delightful as they indulged in the comedy, with Anson Mount being a particular highlight as he navigated through the Vulcan minefield as Spock’s wingman. Ethan Peck continues to impress tasked to play this new human side of Spock, reminding fans of Leonard Nimoy’s performance in the similarly themed TOS episode “This Side of Paradise.” Gia Sandhu was right there with him this time, giving her most relatable performance as T’Pring, adding some nuance and sympathy to the character who was initially introduced as more of a Vulcan ice queen. And while the role may have been cliched, guest star Ellora Patnaik (T’Pril) was far more than “adequate,” chewing up the scenes as the sort of villain of the episode, with Michael Benyaer’s Sevet providing laughs as the hapless husband who actually liked Pike’s cooking. By the way, even though this was a bottle show on the Enterprise, the Vulcan costumes and props made it all work, and kudos to the food stylist for making the Vulcan appetizers look delicious. And on the subject of food, Pike should have said something as Spock – a vegetarian – started gorging on bacon.
The return of Mia Kirshner was also very welcome, showing us more layers to Amanda Grayson as she both embodies the best of Jane Wyatt’s classic portrayal as well as continuing to make it her own as she did on Discovery. Her presence also helped set up the key epiphany for Spock as he came to fully understand Christine though his mother’s eyes, and the price she pays for loving Sarek. Speaking of Sarek, given how this show has been playing it fast and loose with canon, it was welcome that they stuck with Spock’s estrangement from his father as established in The Original Series, since that is a key part of what drives Spock. One thing sadly missing from the episode was Carol Kane, with her Pelia only mentioned in passing due to her established relationship with Amanda. Maybe it was due to scheduling, but Kane’s unique wit could have helped make this the comedy episode it was hoping to be.
To stick with the romcom style, the episode was set up with low stakes, with only Spock’s big dinner event on the line. So his transformation into full human was played mostly for laughs, and there were certainly laughs to be had. However, what he was going through was actually quite profound, and yet we never saw Spock explore what he was missing without his Vulcan side — beyond being able to pull off the rituals. Introducing how his transformation had a ticking clock halfway through the episode feels like an afterthought, especially as he was never informed of this key information. It might have been interesting to see him consider if he should take that cure, looking beyond the impact of the dinner hijinks. One Star Trek theme that was welcome is how the episode demonstrated the value of friendship as the crew rallied to help both Spock and Chapel, showing us both a fun side but also love and bravery, especially for the mission to return to Kerkhov. Chapel, who was the one character playing it straight, is confronted with facing the truth, although the aliens saying being “friends” wasn’t good enough to make a request belies that important Star Trek theme, all so Christine would have to just admit she not only likes Spock, she likes likes him. What did land was how Chapel actually wasn’t into the human Spock, as she loves the real Spock, the half-Vulcan who isn’t handing out hugs in corridors. While this Chapel, especially after that final scene, has completely veered off canon from the original TOS character, she continues to be a strong and relatable character with her own agency.
All of this focus on the romantic elements definitely swings this episode towards the soapy end of the spectrum. Even though the episode clocks in at an hour, the actual strange new world gets little attention. The Kerkhovians were set up as a fascinating ancient civilization with a penchant for procedures reminiscent of the Sheliak from TNG, they were never really explored, and just used to set up the character plot. This might be the fundamental difference that will divide fans regarding this episode, Strange New Worlds puts what would be traditional character-focused “B plots” to the front, moving the mysterious aliens sci-fi plot into the background. More consistent laughs or a richer character exploration could have made up for the big swing of this traditional reversal.
In the end, “Charades” was still entertaining, especially on a surface level, which may be enough. However, it wasn’t entirely satisfying when one digs deeper in search of a great Star Trek episode. We have now hit the halfway point for the second season of Strange New Worlds. The show is to be commended for trying different things even if they don’t always work out. Luckily there are five more to go.
- The episode starts with Christine Chapel’s personal log and Spock’s science officer’s personal log, both Stardate 1789.3.
- Christine’s prep for her fellowship included memorizing Korby’s 3 principles of archeological medicine, a reference to Roger Korby, who is destined to become a love interest of Chapel’s (if this show sticks with that part of canon).
- Korby’s principles are:
- 1.) medicine is always ancient and new as cultures’ understand of what medicine is changes over time
- 2.) the keys to solving are often found by looking backward
- 3.) as a result archeological medicine is as much a study of history as it is of science.
- The Kerkhovian moon was said to be orbiting Eridani B, which is one of the 40 Eridani triple star system. 40 Eridani A has already been established as the star for the planet Vulcan.
- Pike wore his green variant tunic, first seen in season 1 (with a similar tunic later seen on Kirk in TOS).
- Vulcans using nasal suppressants around humans was established by T’Pol in Star Trek: Enterprise.
- Ortegas saying “Hold on to your butts” was likely a reference to the same line in Jurassic Park.
- Pelia was off dealing with a dilithium shortage, which could be setting up a plotline for later in the season.
- Hiding his human ears with a knit cap was likely an homage to Spock hiding his Vulcan ears with a knit cap in “City of the Edge of Forever.”
More to come
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