Star Trek has always done comedy very well. From “The Trouble With Tribbles” to “Our Man Bashir,” the franchise has always managed to make us laugh. Star Trek: Discovery has even done it for four seasons!
These kinds of episodes serve two purposes. First, they lighten the atmosphere on what can be a heavy show. And second, they bring us closer to the characters. “Spock Amok” succeeds in both respects and becomes not only the best episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds yet but one of the best in many years.
After the continuing disappointment of Discovery, fans could be forgiven for thinking that Paramount had forgotten how to make good Star Trek. Those fears had already proven misplaced by the strong opening start to Strange New Worlds, and can be put to bed entirely by “Spock Amok,” which is laugh-out-loud funny, touching, and classic Star Trek.
This Spock-centric episode is a prequel to the Original Series episode “Amok Time.” There are plentiful references, including the opening fight between Spock and Spock. However, while long-time fans will be overjoyed, it’s not something the viewer needs to know. The episode is accessible for all.
Like the other episodes this season, “Spock Amok” does a great job of getting into the history and motivations behind the central character, in this case Spock. The primary conceit, a body swap between Spock and his fiancée T’Pring, is of a vintage older than Star Trek itself, and the idea of partners becoming closer by stepping into each other’s shoes seems a little cliched. However, none of this matters if it’s entertaining, which this episode is, complete with a serious message and theme underneath.
Star Trek meets Freaky Friday…again
Almost everybody can identify with fears that you may not be good enough for your partner or that you will disappoint them. In this episode, the half-human Spock worries that he is not Vulcan enough for his T’Pring.
Cold and unemotional like all Vulcans, T’Pring develops over the course of the episode. While at first many will undoubtedly be affronted by her Vulcan curtness, as she and Spock come to know each other better, so do we. The character has rarely been portrayed favorably following the events of “Amok Time,” even appearing as an outright villain in the novel Spock’s World. Here, we see the beginnings of the separation between Spock and T’Pring that eventually leads to her preferring Stonn, adding backstory and depth.
After taking a minute to get over the return of the green tunic, we learn that the Enterprise and Captain Pike are to be involved in very delicate negotiations to bring a new planet into the Federation. Unfortunately for all involved, Spock is central to these negotiations, meaning that the completely inexperienced T’Pring is forced to take his place. Spock, meanwhile, tasks himself with doing T’Pring’s job, helping bring criminals back to the path of logic.
“Dangerously close to hijinks”
Occasionally on Star Trek, the subplot can steal the spotlight. That arguably happens here as La’an and Number One are left on board the Enterprise. Following a brilliant faux pas by Dr. M’Benga, the two become determined to disprove that they are not “Where Fun Goes to Die.”
From listing all the “exciting” things they planned to do to the good cop/bad cop interrogation to the game of “Enterprise Bingo,” the interaction between La’an and Number One is a delight. In last week’s review, I mentioned how Uhura and Hemmer are seemingly becoming one of Star Trek‘s infamous double acts, but here they have competition. This plot does wonders for La’an in particular as it shaves some of the rough edges off her character.
In a third subplot, we return to Nurse Chapel’s developing feelings for Spock. She abandons her partner simply to talk to him and gets clued in on the whole body swap, pairing off with Spock in T’Pring’s body. The attempt to bring in the Vulcan criminal doesn’t go well; Spock punches him, which impresses Chapel. However, with Spock still engaged to T’Pring by the time of The Original Series and oblivious to Chapel’s feelings, it’s difficult to see how the storyline can develop over multiple seasons.
Eventually, Spock and T’Pring are put back in the right bodies thanks to Dr. M’Benga, who by the show’s own admission uses something incredibly close to magic to set things right. On waking, they have a newfound appreciation for each other and finally get to finish what they started in the first episode of the season. With an understanding reached, the scorch signed, and the mission a success, the magnificent solar sail ship unfurls the Federation flag. It’s a feel-good ending to a joyful episode.
It may have been a risky move for Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to produce a heavy comedy episode with just a half-season gone. However, the show pulls it off brilliantly. While there are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, there are some serious messages and character development here. Rarely has a Star Trek crew become so likable so quickly. Everyone has depth, everyone feels unique, and while the plot may stray into tropes and cliche at times, the audience is having far too much fun to care. “Spock Amok” is the best episode of Strange New Worlds to date and, dare we say, since the days of Deep Space Nine. Phenomenal.