Warning: Spoilers for "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" season 1, episode 5.
It's hard to believe we're already now at the halfway point of the inaugural season of the latest live-action "Star Trek" spin-off. It makes you wish that these shows had longer seasons. However, it's safe to say that no one, probably including Paramount, expected "Strange New Worlds" to be as popular as it is, so fingers crossed we will get lots more seasons and if the writing only improves from this point, this will undoubtedly be the smash hit "Star Trek" show that the Melrose-based studio so desperately wanted.
Moreover, each episode has surpassed the previous one, which is a surefire sign that when this show gets up to full speed, we're really in for a treat. Or alternatively of course, it could just fall on its face, like "Picard" did, but…we have a hunch that's not going to happen in this particular instance.
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And as if to prove the point, episode 5, entitled "Spock Amok" opens with an incredible, unexpected and thoroughly entertaining nod to "The Original Series" — as the episode title might give away.
In the pre-credit sequence, Spock (Ethan Peck) finds himself on Vulcan preparing for Koon-ut-kal-if-fee, the Vulcan ritual, which means "marriage or challenge" and is a "passion fight" where one Vulcan challenges another over a mate, ultimately resulting in the winner getting married. It was first seen, and explored in some depth, in the "TOS" episode "Amok Time" (S02, E01) and has since gone on to become an iconic piece of "Star Trek" lore, even being beautifully parodied in arguably one of the best episodes of "The Simpsons" ever made, "Deep Space Homer" (S05, E15).
We find ourselves asking, "Uh-oh, who has Spock annoyed so much that they challenged him in a ritualistic fight to death?" But it's a dream, of course it is, Spock just ate too much K'normian cheese before he went to bed. However, the events of the dream echo his subconscious fears and concerns, as they often do and Vulcan Spock fights a human Spock, both played by Peck, in a reflection of his duality.
It's really inventive writing and naturally every conceivable detail has been faithfully reproduced, including the infamous score by Gerald Fried called "The Ancient Battle/2nd Kroykah" that was subsequently used in a number of other second season "TOS" episodes, including "The Doomsday Machine" (S02, E06). It's so refreshing to see the writers/producers/showrunners referencing their own franchise instead of other, entirely different sci-fi IPs. It's not like the "Star Trek" universe doesn't have an incredible wealth of material to use.
The USS Enterprise has docked at the revered and respected Starbase 1 for much-needed repairs, along with crew R&R after the almost-deadly encounter with the Gorn last week, which suggests this episode will be one that "Star Trek" alone has made into a sci-fi trope, the classic "shore leave" story. The majority of the pre-credit sequence focuses on Spock and his fiancé T'Pring (Gia Sandhu) as they attempt to work through some personal issues. They agree to dedicate quality time for a private dinner later that evening.
The secondary story in this week's episode is another "Star Trek" staple, ongoing interplanetary negotiations…and why not. The Federation is attempting to persuade the R'ongovians to join, but so far things haven't been going too well. And now they want to discuss the issue, at length, immediately, rather than the scheduled time, which was the following morning. As such Spock misses his dinner date. Oh dear. Roll those gorgeous opening credits.
The "shore leave" nature of the episode creates some interesting match-ups with crew and represents the tertiary plot thread. Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) has got a hot date with an old flame, but the second he starts talking about taking their relationship further, she zones out and opts to go and speak to Spock instead, who's sitting not far away in the bar. Meanwhile Lt Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong) and Lt Cmdr Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) pair up and indulge in some mischief while everyone else is off the Enterprise.
Chapel offers Spock some relationship advice, which he duly follows. He creates the setting for a "soul-sharing" ritual in T'Pring's quarters in an effort to make up for the missed dinner and thus begins the main story thread for this week. They perform the ritual exactly as intended, except they're now in each other's bodies with no obvious way of reversing the process. Yes indeed, we're being served a most generous course of that classic sci-fi trope, the body-swap, along with exactly the right amounts of humor, drama and entertainment. <chef's kiss>
What's particularly amusing and is quite deliberate, is that they sound exactly the same. Upon rewatching this episode — and we highly recommend it — the subtleties are a little more noticeable. To be honest though, from what we've seen here, now we so badly want a "WandaVision"-style sitcom limited series starring Spock and T'Pring. Thankfully, both of them are skilled diplomats and thankfully both of them have jobs that draw on their skills. Imagine the chaos if one was a classical concert pianist and the other was a prison guard on a Vulcan penal colony.
Nerd Note: Captain Kirk went through the body swap ordeal in the "TOS" episode "Turnabout Intruder" (S03, E24) and other notable instances include the superb "Stargate SG1" episode "Holiday" (S02, E18), the "Farscape" episode "Out of Their Minds" (S02, E09) and the epic "Red Dwarf" episode "Bodyswap" (S03, E04).
Aside from these out-of-body shenanigans, the other major source of amusement this week comes from Noonien-Singh and Chin-Riley. They stumble across a pair of ensigns who were indulging in something called "Enterprise bingo." It's exactly what you'd expect, a list of challenges to be accomplished that more than likely break at least several Starfleet regulations, a little bit like those online scavenger hunts that were popular about 10 years ago. And there are some fun ones on the list that that Noonien-Singh and Chin-Riley confiscate, so naturally they try a few themselves.
Attempting to reflavor chewing gum using the transporter doesn't float their boats, the phaser duel is somewhat disappointing and the two-floor turbolift challenge just doesn't last very long. However, the last item on the list is "Sign the Scorch" and is an extremely creative addition to the history of the USS Enterprise. It's (now) the oldest unreplaced piece of the Enterprise's hull, where it was said to be good luck to sign it. Rather than use EVA suits, they use a small-ish force-shield to gain access to the exterior hull and prevent an unpleasant death in the freezing vacuum of space.
Noonien-Singh and Chin-Riley sign the Scorch, before looking up in awe to see the R'ongovian flagship flying overhead, sails deployed, and flying the flag of the Federation, signifying that the negotiations have been a success, thanks almost entirely to Capt. Pike (Anson Mount) who correctly guessed that the extremely empathic nature of the R'ongovians directly affects their behavior.
Spock and T'Pring each have enlightening experiences in each other's bodies and while it probably sounded hilarious when the idea was being fleshed out, it falls a teeny-tiny bit flat, but ... not enough to make really any kind of dent in the enjoyment of this episode. The whole thing is well paced and for the most part carefully weaves its way through a potential minefield of clichés without actually causing one to explode.
The fan–favorite green "captain's wrap" tunic makes its first appearance in "Nu-Trek" in this episode and according to IMDb, in the original series, the Captain was the only one to wear one. Apparently it was created to hide the girdle that William Shatner had to wear when he put on weight.
Has ... er, anyone seen Sam Kirk? Asking for a friend.
Finally, in Sydney, Australia, to promote all-things-Paramount — the launch of the streaming service, the success of "Top Gun: Maverick" and so on — there was a spectacular drone display over Kirribilli and the Harbor Bridge that, among other things, also featured the USS Enterprise NCC-1701 emerging from warp drive. You can watch the full display here.
The first five episodes of "Strange New Worlds" is now available to watch on Paramount Plus as is the entire second season of "Star Trek: Picard." Season 4 of "Star Trek: Discovery" is also available on the Paramount streaming service in the US and CTV Sci-Fi or Crave TV in Canada. Countries outside of North America can watch on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel.
Paramount has confirmed that its streaming platform will launch in the UK and Ireland on June 22, available both as a standalone service and as part of the Sky Cinema subscription for the UK cable provider.However, only the first three episodes of "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" will be available on the streamer on that region’s launch date, as the show will continue on a weekly Wednesday release schedule through the conclusion of the 10-episode Season 1 run.