Star Trek: Strange New Worlds - S1 E1 - "Strange New Worlds"
By: Samantha Coley
May 5, 2022
'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds' Season 1 Episode 1 Review: First Contact Gone Wrong Makes Everything Alright
Welcome to the USS Enterprise.
The first episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds introduces the audience to a USS Enterprise and her crew that are both familiar and yet unexplored. Coming into a franchise nearly 60 years into its run is quite a task, and doing so as a prequel requires a delicate balance of uniqueness and tradition. Strange New Worlds has a long legacy to live up to and if the first episode is any indication, it's going to do so with ease.
Jumping into a franchise that has been around for as long as Star Trek has, with such an extensive back catalog of content can be overwhelming to new fans. Strange New Worlds Season 1 Episode 1 serves as a perfect entry point for new viewers, while also being packed to the brim with references to decades worth of lore for longtime fans. As a prequel to Star Trek: The Original Series, very little knowledge of the franchise is outright necessary to jump into the series as it begins. That being said, Star Trek fans who are familiar with the franchise are sure to get a kick out of this series as Strange New Worlds gives new life to characters we've only gotten glimpses of before, and fleshes out the universe in a way that is both fresh and exciting while staying true to the source material.
If anything, the most necessary information to know before diving into this pilot is that it takes place after the Season 2 finale of Star Trek: Discovery and 10 years before the events of The Original Series. Don't worry though, if you haven't seen Discovery, this episode still provides you with everything you need to know about these characters and their time there through effective flashbacks and discussion of Pike's vision of his own future. However, if you're looking for a primer before diving into the rest of the first season of Strange New Worlds, we've got you covered.
"Number One," whose name is Una Chin-Riley, (Rebecca Romijn) delivers a beautiful opening monologue that sets the tone for the series as we begin from the perspective of an alien world experiencing first contact with Starfleet. "Our first visit from the stars is always the province of children's stories and science fiction," she says, striking the right balance between wistful and thrilling.
We spend a decent portion of the beginning of the episode catching up with Captain Pike (Anson Mount) and Spock (Ethan Peck). We find Pike enjoying a lengthy shore leave on his ranch in Bear Creek, Montana. Having spent the night with a fellow captain (played by Wynonna Earp's Melanie Scrofano), Pike spends his mornings making pancakes and watching the very apt 1951 classic The Day The Earth Stood Still. It's immediately clear that Pike is still hung up on the vision he witnessed of his future — a secret he can only share with a select few. The pilot makes it clear that Pike knowing he has but a decade to live his life in a way that he's proud of and satisfied with will be a big motivator for him. "There's surviving and then there's living, it's your choice," Pike later tells a junior officer, which is very reflective of his journey in this episode. While he seems determined not to return to command right away, when his first officer goes missing he returns to the line of duty despite his lack of faith in himself.
Meanwhile, on Vulcan, Spock is actively courting T'Pring (Gia Sanhu), a character who was introduced in The Original Series. While bound to the strict logic and formal customs of Vulcan, these two play into the sweeping otherworldly romance of the moment quite well as the music and the setting lend a helping hand. While Spock readily accepts T'pring's proposal of marriage, it becomes clear almost immediately that they have quite different plans for their futures. T'Pring holds strong to the ways of Vulcan and doesn't really indicate any interest in exploring the galaxy. Spock, on the other hand, is fascinated by the differences between Vulcan and other worlds, and he's heavily committed to his duty with Starfleet — a fact that becomes quite clear when he leaves T'Pring on the night of their engagement to join Pike in searching for Una.
On the mission to rescue Una, we are introduced to the full crew of the USS Enterprise. First up is Lieutenant La'an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), a new character introduced in the series as a descendant of infamous Star Trek villain Khan Noonien-Singh. She's got a tough exterior and a lot to prove as she serves as acting first officer in Una's absence. We also meet Helmsman Ortegas (Melissa Navia), who is infinitely cool, and a very green Cadet Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) on her first rotation at communications. We later also meet Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) and Doctor M'Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) who bring a healthy dose of warmth and humor to the Medbay. Romijn and Bush do an excellent job of jumping into two roles originated by the first lady of Star Trek, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, and differentiating them from each other.
The characters and relationships introduced in this episode of Strange New Worlds feel appropriately lived-in in many cases, while the new crew members feel fresh and full of possibility. Pike and Spock are motivated to go rescue Una, not only because it's their mission, and she's their fellow officer, but also because she's their friend. La'an is decidedly new but her subterfuge to ensure that she's on the team to rescue Una, her quick (and accurate) if brazen decisiveness, and her dark past tell us a lot about who she is. It's also revealed that Una and La'an also share a history.
On the planet where Una went missing, the Enterprise finds that their society hasn't built a warp drive — which is necessary before the Federation makes First Contact —but instead have developed a warp bomb. The society here is embroiled in conflict not too dissimilar from our own. Strange New Worlds upholds Star Trek's long legacy of reflecting social issues and commenting on the best route to a utopian sci-fi future. Despite the team's best efforts to uphold General Order One (soon to be the Prime Directive), Pike must introduce himself to the aliens, because the boiling point that this society is at with the invention of the warp bomb is partially their fault. Pike makes a classic Star Trek Captain decision to do what he knows is right, despite rules and Starfleet protocols.
While he tries to influence the planet's society for good by arguing for peace and debate, the leaders here aren't having it. Strange New Worlds stresses the ideal that those with the most power should then use it to create a better world for everyone. Pike uses his power as the Captain of the fleet's leading starship to open a line of dialogue between the warring factions on this planet. Using footage from the January 6 riots on the US capitol, and police violence during the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, Pike tells these people that they're headed for dark days if they don't take active measures to start hearing each other and seeking peace. He offers them the choice between continuing to war with each other and joining the Federation of Planets and driving their society into the future. Naturally, they choose to lift each other up and "reach for the stars," and in doing so, build a path to a beautiful future.
Overall, this episode does excellent work of setting up Strange New Worlds as a series that is just as determined to make its own unique impact as it is to honor the deep roots of the franchise. Strange New Worlds has ushered in the return of episodic Star Trek with integrity and a bold mission to continue exploring the galaxy through the lens of our humanity.