Two episodes gone, the reaction to Star Trek: Strange New Worlds has been very positive. “Ghosts of Illyria” has the unenviable task of keeping up the early momentum. With the show focusing on one character per episode, it’s now Number One’s turn.
The opening minutes of the episode bring up forbidden genetic engineering, a vast ion storm, and scenes of destruction down on the planet’s surface; it’s clear from the start that we’re in for a wild ride. That said, it’s hard not to be distracted by just how nice the Starfleet leather jackets are; I wouldn’t be surprised if viewers paused the show in the midst of this chaos to see if they could get one.
As with our past two episodes, there’s a real sense of classic Star Trek storytelling here. A planet in peril, transporter troubles, and a crew trapped on the surface? This could easily be a plot on The Original Series or The Next Generation. While the return to classic “planet of the week” storytelling has been welcome, it remains to be seen how long it’ll last. Can the show survive on this kind of nostalgia for the long term?
Number One steps up in “Ghosts of Illyria”
Back to the plot, there’s a sickness spreading around the Enterprise that’s causing the crew members to behave in erratic ways, with one guy smashing his head through one of the ship’s windows. While the scene is effective, I’m a little concerned that the Enterprise‘s windows are so easily breakable!
With Pike trapped on the surface of the planet below, Number One takes the lead for the episode. Number One is all things in “Ghosts of Illyria”: investigator, leader, and savior. She also has to deal with being infected herself, and the truth about who she is: a genetically engineered being.
The intersection of genetic engineering and identity has been explored before in the wider Star Trek franchise: how people reacted to Doctor Julian Bashir’s genetic engineering on Deep Space Nine was a big issue from season 5 onward. Hopefully, Strange New Worlds will find some new angles on it.
The lesser known crew members on Strange New Worlds come into focus
La’an, who it is confirmed is a descendent of Khan Noonien-Singh, also takes some of the spotlight here. Infected by the virus, La’an reveals that she’s resentful that her family name affected her childhood. She says some hurtful things about Number One, and later admits that it wasn’t entirely because of the illness. While the two make up, this could be fertile ground for drama down the road.
Speaking of doctors, “Ghosts of Illyria” gives us our first real introduction to Babs Olusanmokun as Dr. M’Benga. While not featured as much as the other crew members thus far, the surprising twist of M’Benga keeping his daughter in what is essentially suspended animation is very interesting.
Another crew member we haven’t seen enough of yet is Hemmer, who has a grumpiness that seems common amongst Trek engineers and an attitude somewhat reminiscent of Odo. Hemmer has the potential to provide comic relief while still getting serious when the plot calls for it. Whether his attempt to materialize a piece of the planet’s core aboard the Enterprise was meant to be serious or not, I don’t know, but it was hilarious.
As mentioned, keeping Pike and Spock on the planet’s surface is essentially just a plot device to get them out of the way. Perhaps there’s a missed opportunity here for a little development on the Pike/Spock relationship. While there are some nice effects and a little action, you can’t help feeling that everything going on below is irrelevant.
Strange New Worlds has quickly developed a crew that the viewer cares about and who care about each other. The comparison with Discovery, where we barely know anybody’s name by the end of the first season, is startling. Although viewers would be wise to wait for Episode 5 if they think they have a measure of everybody already!