Star Trek: Strange New Worlds 205: Spock, you got some ‘splainin to do

Anson Mount as Capt. Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock in episode 205 “Charades” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+
Anson Mount as Capt. Pike and Ethan Peck as Spock in episode 205 “Charades” of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, streaming on Paramount+, 2023. Photo Cr: Michael Gibson/Paramount+ /

Let’s be real. There’s the reasons why we say we love Star Trek, and then there’s why we really love Star Trek. We say we love the philosophical sci-fi and social commentary. But philosophy and social commentary would get exhausting is that’s all there was, which is why a lot of Star Trek is nonsense. Although the fandom doesn’t like to admit it, we love the nonsense. It’s a feature, not a bug. Nonsense has been a strength of Strange New Worlds, and another reason it feels like classic Trek.

By “nonsense,” I don’t simply mean comedic or lighthearted episodes; I mean episodes where the drama comes not from a negative space wedgie, but from a negative space wedgie happening just before dinner with the battleaxe mother-in-law.

It’s a comedic setup so hoary it would have been embarrassing in the ’60s. I’m surprised they didn’t serve steamed hams for dinner. It’s a testament to the courage of Strange New Worlds that they were willing to take a plot like this head on and spin gold from it.

Strange New Worlds’ first really great episode was also its first nonsense episode: last season’s “The Elysian Kingdom.” But what elevated “The Elysian Kingdom” was that it packed a real emotional gut punch. That episode involved a sentient spaceborne disembodied consciousness forcing the crew to act out a children’s book and ended with Dr. M’Benga accepting the loss of his terminally ill daughter. It reminded me of Gene Roddenberry’s stricture that every episode should involve both a sci-fi element and a personal element. It’s a simple formula, but it’s the formula that made Star Trek the phenomenon that it is.

Like “The Elysian Kingdom,” “Charades” turns on a dime near the end. There are plenty of big emotions in this episode, which is expected since Spock into a human. Even so, the ending gut punch lands as if from nowhere, as if the preceding nonsense was all misdirection.

That’s the beauty of the sci-fi/personal drama formula. In classic Trek, when the sci-fi plot was lazily resolved using deus ex machina technobabble, it wasn’t a big fault, because the sci-fi plot was only half the story. Likewise, any annoyance you might have at Star Trek descending into a sci-fi I Love Lucy melts away when you realize what it’s been building to.

Spock gets turned into a human

So in the recap, we’re reminded that Chapel has applied for a two-month archeological medicine fellowship at the Vulcan Science Academy to get away from the awkwardness between her and Spock. Unfortunately, when the Enterprise is sent to investigate an ancient civilization who once lived on one of Vulcan’s moons, fate puts her and Spock on a shuttle together. That civilization, the Kirkhovians, are rumored to have had incredibly advanced medicine before disappearing, hence Chapel’s interest. That’s when one of those pesky space wedgies consumes the shuttle.

The next thing we see is Spock waking up in sick bay, fully human. Uhura finds a weird alien business card in the shuttle. Turns out that the Kirkhovians transcended their corporeal forms (as you do) and exist now as pure energy. When Spock and Chapel crashed into their travel network thingy, the Kirkhovians repaired them using their DNA as instructions, except they didn’t understand Spock’s half-human, half-Vulcan “instructions” and rebuilt him as a human.

Hilariously, the Kirkhovians talk like condescending customer service chatbots and insist that “restitution was made, there is no need for further contact” with the same clipped impersonal syrupy lilt you hear when you contact a call center. As much as Strange New Worlds feels like classic Star Trek, this is a very un-Star Trek-like joke; the Star Trek universe is usually too invested in maintaining the illusion that we’re in the 22nd century to break the fourth wall with an anachronistic joke like this, which makes it even funnier.

Guess who’s coming to dinner

As Chapel searches for the cure for the human condition, Spock discovers human vices such as bacon, anal retentiveness, and horniness (don’t worry, that last one is subtext). But being in the vicinity of Vulcan, the mother of Spock’s fiance T’Pring insists now is the time for a pre-wedding ceremony that Spock had been putting off. Spock’s mother Amanda is the first to turn up and drafts the rest of the crew into teaching Spock how to lie and pretend to still be Vulcan.

The ceremony is brutal and involves the prospective in-laws pointing out all of your faults while you serve them tea from a scalding hot pot with no handle. This sounds like hell, but it’s even worse here because T’Pring’s mother doesn’t approve of Spock. This leads to the first emotional punch as Spock realizes the difficulty his own mother faced marrying a Vulcan.

Meanwhile, Chapel decides that her efforts to find a cure are useless and goes to find the Kirkhovians with Uhura and Ortega. The Kirkhovians inform her that mere friends cannot lodge complaints about a repaired person, and ask her what Spock is to her. She continues to insist he’s just a friend, while Uhura and Ortega simultaneously cry, “Oh, come on!” That’s when they drop a bomb: why, they ask, did Spock redirect the shuttle’s shields to protect her, presumably at his own expense?

Back at the dinner with the in-laws, Captain Pike is stalling by telling the Vulcans that charades is a sacred human ritual they must perform. Why Pike is there is something I never quite worked out, but his presence is fun. The dinner would have turned into Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf if he weren’t there.

As Pike’s description of charades descends into chaos, Chapel arrives with a hypospray. She asks him why he redirected the shields. As he’s about to confess his love for her, she sticks him with the hypospray. The effect is immediate and he turns back into his usual repressed self. This is it. Jess Bush’s face is made of emotion, and the scene is truly heartbreaking.

T’Pring is understandably upset that Spock didn’t tell her that he was a human and they break it off while Chapel mouths off at the Vulcan who turned her down for the archeology fellowship. But we knew that was coming because he looks like a cross between Peewee Herman and Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element. Then she makes out with Spock.


So far each of the episodes has been devoted to one of the lead characters. This one was a combined Chapel/Spock episode, and both were well served.

I’ve praised Ethan Peck’s Spock as being really believable as the same character as the one played by Leonard Nimoy. This is because Leonard Nimoy had an irrepressible warmth that undercut the fact that he was playing an unemotional character. Peck has the same warmth. “Charades” showed off new dimensions to a character who has been around for nearly 60 years, and pulled it off.

Next. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds review, Episode 204: “Among The Lotus Eaters”. dark

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