Warning: Spoilers ahead for "Strange New Worlds" Season 2, episode 8
More than any other installment this season, there's a lot to unpack with this one, titled "Under the Cloak of War" and frankly, it's the best episode of the second season so far. If the writer's pitch for this one was "Star Trek" meets "M*A*S*H" then it would've no doubt woken up a few sleepy scribes trying to snatch 40 winks unnoticed at the back of the room. And boy oh boy, does it work.
Without a doubt, this is up there with, noticeably with the "Deep Space 9" episode "In the Pale Moonlight" (S06, E19), but also with some of the best of "Space: Above and Beyond" — an incredibly underrated sci-fi series, plus of course "Babylon 5" with epic episodes like "GROPOS" (S02, E10). We've never really seen the Federation properly engaged in ground war and given the setting for this, which is the Klingon War, it makes perfect sense.
There's even the 23rd century equivalent of Radar O'Reilly announcing incoming wounded as an automated computer voice warns of incoming transport. Obviously Starfleet gunships and rescue shuttles would've been even better, but the budget probably didn't allow for that, plus we get the added bonus of the pattern buffer tragedy and even the interesting notion that this forward operating base-of sorts on the moon J'Gal is sensor camouflaged and hidden to Klingon detection devices.
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This opens up all sorts of interesting possibilities in fact and it would be truly amazing to see some Starfleet UH-1-style shuttlecraft being used in theaters of war and combat zones. You know, like we did in "Rogue One"... but we'll probably have to wait a while for those.
Babs Olusanmokun, who plays Dr. M'Benga, is nothing short of magnificent in this episode as he battles with his own inner demons as much as he does the demon made manifest, in this instance it's the former Klingon General Dak'Rah (Robert Wisdom). The power of flashback is utilized masterfully by episode director Jeff W. Byrd and writer Davey Perez and the final twist of the knife, so to speak, is inspired.
Moreover, we learn all about that mysterious MacGuffin that we were first introduced to back in the season two premiere episode "The Broken Circle." We are of course talking about the magic potion, secret formula, "Star Trek's" very own Super-Soldier serum: Protocol 12. While this could potentially change the very landscape of the Trek universe — imagine Kirk fighting a Gorn or holding off Borg intruders being jacked up on this stuff — but that won't happen and it will almost certainly be nipped in the bud. Hey, even Clint Howard shows up, bless.
With events unfolding the way they are, it wouldn't come as a complete shock to learn that the third season of "Strange New Worlds" might be the last. We know the fate of Captain Pike and we can guess that despite a great deal of deliberation, he's almost certainly going to go through with it. Even Alex Kurtzman can't change that chapter in "Star Trek" history. James Kirk now seems to pop up a third time in this second season, so clearly his character is being primed. Add to which, by the time of "The Original Series," M'Benga is no longer chief medical officer, but still serves on the USS Enterprise. This episode no doubt provides part of the reason why.
Moreover, the emphasis in the second season has very visibly moved away from Pike, to instead focus on other members of the Enterprise crew, possibly in a reaction to the fact that this is what was first attempted with "Discovery" before the showrunners realized it was unsustainable. Or it's to give other characters a chance to shine before Pike gets promoted and hands the keys of the Enterprise over to Kirk. Truth be told, it's probably a bit of both.
Put all of this together, combined with the limited size of window that "Strange New Words" can legitimately occupy in the timeline, and tragically, the clock is ticking. Despite suffering a little from whiplash given the significant change in pace following last week, it's entirely possible the seemingly assorted mix episode order is set to continue with next week's musical episode.
Sadly, principal photography on the third season of "Strange New Worlds" has fallen victim to the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, so it's impossible to tell when we'll get that as it's affected just about every one of our favorite sci-fi shows still in production, from "Halo" to "Severance" to "Upload."
That said, the third season of "Resident Alien" was completed before the strike started, so that should still be coming in 2023. But we're still waiting for "Love, Death + Robots" season four...
"Strange New Worlds" and every episode of nearly every "Star Trek" show currently airing streams exclusively on Paramount Plus in the US. Internationally, the shows are available on Paramount Plus in Australia, Latin America, the UK and South Korea, as well as on Pluto TV in Austria, France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Switzerland on the Pluto TV Sci-Fi channel. They also stream exclusively on Paramount Plus in Italy, France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria. In Canada, they air on Bell Media's CTV Sci-Fi Channel and stream on Crave.