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Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Premiere Review – ‘The Broken Circle’

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Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was certainly one of the more pleasant surprises of the TV landscape when it premiered last spring, bringing with it a refreshing mix of throwback, adventure-of-the-week Trek and the character-centric, season-long arcs and expensive polish that are expected from top-tier shows these days. Now, with “The Broken Circle,” the crew of the USS Enterprise is back for an uneven but still enjoyable season 2 debut that promises to continue to flesh out those character stories, even while leaving one wondering if some of the glow has come off the dilithium crystal.

Things begin more or less where we left off in the season 1 cliffhanger, where Number One – AKA Commander Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) – was arrested due to her lying about her true nature as a genetically modified Illyrian. At around the four-minute mark in this episode, after a Zoom call with his imprisoned first officer, Anson Mount’s Captain Pike heads off to find help for her. And… that’s the last we see of the series’ star this week.

Which is fine, I guess. The show is an ensemble, after all, but the absence of its lead character winds up making Strange New Worlds’ new season feel a tad off out of the gate, almost like you’ve come down with a case of Thelusian flu.

The absence of Pike winds up making the new season feel a tad off out of the gate.


What follows is an episode that can’t quite figure out whose story it’s telling. Is it a Spock hour, as the Ethan Peck rendition of the iconic Vulcan continues to struggle with his emotions after the events of the previous season forcing him to unleash all those pent-up feelings while battling the nasty Gorn? Is it Dr. M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush), who get some shared backstory revealed here? Or is it La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), who left the Enterprise at the end of last season to help an abandoned child but reappears in this episode?

Well, it’s definitely not La’an. Despite her reappearance being the inciting incident of this story, she isn’t actually given much to do beyond having some fun when she gets into a drinking contest with a Klingon, a la Marion in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Other than that, her reappearance after cutting out last season is mostly treated as a non-issue, with no dramatic weight as a result.

Nor is it series newcomer Carol Kane, who takes on the role of Pelia, the Enterprise’s new chief engineer. Kane has, what, five and a half decades of acting credits to her name at this point? So she is certainly an interesting casting choice, and her character’s background is intriguing. Pelia is clearly being positioned to bring a unique perspective to the Enterprise, and also apparently has some things in common with Spock that should be interesting to get into. As for Kane’s performance, the actress’ accented, lilting tones may feel decidedly non-Starfleet, but I’m into it and prepared to see where this all goes. (Given what happened to Hemmer, last season’s chief engineer, I fear that Pelia’s stay on the Enterprise may be equally short-lived.) That Pelia assists Spock and the crew in their perhaps not-very-well-thought-out plan to find La’an would seem to make her an ideal addition to the crew, internal Star Trek logic be damned (Spock basically breaks every rule in the book in what is seemingly his first time in command).

Let’s say the episode belongs to Spock, M'Benga, and Chapel.


Anyway, let’s say the episode belongs to Spock, M'Benga, and Chapel, with Spock taking the lead in the end as his emotional struggles tie directly into the physical mishaps the latter two find themselves in. What feels like a lack of focus, or an episode that is spreading itself too thin in its opening half, congeals into a thoughtful, exciting and, well, emotional journey for this particular trio of Enterprisers.

Now, where’s Captain Pike?

Star Trek: Strange New Worlds Season 2 Images

Verdict

Strange New Worlds returns for season 2 with a mixed episode that ultimately figures out what it wants to be about, but not before getting in its own way at times. The show is clearing away some dangling plot threads from season 1 fairly quickly, it seems – perhaps too quickly to be dramatically satisfying – but Spock, Dr. M’Benga, and Nurse Chapel all get interesting and emotional moments that culminate in an exciting finale that also features a striking use of Star Trek tech that’s never quite been portrayed in the way it is here. Cool!

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