'Strange New Worlds' Treks to Triumphant Season One Finish

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Wednesday July 6, 2022

Anson Mount stars as Capt. Christopher Pike on 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds'
Anson Mount stars as Capt. Christopher Pike on 'Star Trek: Strange New Worlds'  (Source:Paramount+/CBS)

With the July 7 release of "A Quality of Mercy," the tenth and final episode of its freshman season, "Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" proves that even after more than half a century there's still plenty of life in the venerable sci-fi franchise.

Better yet, in the course of its first season, "SNW" has brilliantly illustrated that episodic television can be fun and compelling, and is worth hanging onto.

The name of the episode may seem like a riff on the title of a segment from the Original Series ("Errand of Mercy"), but that's either a coincidence or a red herring intended to deflect fan speculation when the news hits that this season-ender replays and remixes a beloved hour from the classic show's canon. Let's avoid spoilers and just say that Captain Pike (Anson Mount), who has been haunted throughout the season by visions of a future catastrophe, is paid a visit by an unexpected figure from an alternative to that future. The reason? To warn Pike not to resist his destiny, lest he set in motion a sequence of events that will spell disaster for the entire galaxy.

That warning isn't just words. It's made manifest when Pike is hurled through time and dropped into the midst of a critical situation aboard the Starship Enterprise during the years that James T. Kirk commands the vessel. Only... this isn't Kirk's ship. Because Pike has found a way to sidestep his fate, he remains in command, and most (but not all!) of his senior staff are still serving alongside him. When the ship becomes embroiled in a potentially history-changing conflict —†one that sharp-eyed fans will recognize the moment Pike transits into this possible future — the captain makes choices that line up with his personal philosophy and his style of command, but those choices will have drastically different outcomes from what happened when we first saw this situation unfold on the Original Series.

"Star Trek" has only rarely revisited past glories in ways similar to this. "Deep Space Nine" got up to time travel hijinks to offer an alternate take on a classic episode with "Trials and Tribble-ations," a lovingly comedic salute to the smart and funny David Gerrold-written "The Trouble with Tribbles"; in a more serious vein, "Voyager" reimagined the events of the last "Trek" movie to feature the original cast, "Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country."

"Strange New Worlds" finds its own path through the tricky proposition of retelling a classic episode from a new perspective, providing a perfect balance of contemporary "Trek" storytelling with old-fashioned fan service in the episode's writing, direction, and even scoring. (Love those signature key lights across characters' eyes at dramatic moments; and, hey! It's the original show's classic "Omigod!" music cue!) The result is an hour that demonstrates the series has got what it takes to surprise us, keep us in suspense, and make us think hard about the sort of ethical conundrums that "Star Trek" has made its hallmark. Coming at the end of a season that's been a mixed bag in every way, "A Quality of Mercy" is a gripping hour that easily transcends everything that's come before on the new show.

But that's a problem, in a way; fans old and new will love this adventure, and they should. Hopefully, though, the show's producers won't decide that this sort of re-visitation is an easy path to giving viewers what they want.

Not that we don't enjoy a dose of nostalgia here and there; the season featured a dream sequence at one point that paid meticulous homage to the Kirk-Spock battle from the classic episode "Amok Time" (complete with that episode's thrilling, and indelible, music). It was faintly ridiculous (Spock having a dream that basically previews a passage from his later life?), but its pleasures outweighed a sense that the show was resorting to cannibalism.

Still, "Strange New Worlds," despite being a prequel to the Original Series (one of several, but the only one to be set on the pre-Kirk Enterprise), needs to be a series in its own right, and too much reliance on the tropes and greatest hits moments from the classic show can only hobble that endeavor.

Season One overall has proven itself more satisfying and creatively fertile when it embraces the ethos of the Original Series without surrendering to that cannibalizing impulse. That means telling stories with a sense of drama and meaningful stakes (as in an episode in which Pike and his crew match wits with a Gorn attack force, or the episode in which a levitating city maintains its literally high-flying standard of living at the expense of a single sacrificial soul). It also means abiding by the finest "Trek" tradition of commenting on contemporary social issues (as the series' first episode did by visiting a planet as riven with partisan strife as America is now).

But in the process of trying on different moods, flavors, and even sub-genres, "Strange New Worlds" has too often lacked originality. One recent episode (controversial for killing off a major character in a literal redshirt moment) basically ripped off the "Alien" movies, adopting story beats as directly derivative as finding a traumatized young survivor and dealing with the body horror that comes with realizing your enemy reproduces by having its young incubate inside living humanoids before they rip their way out of a screaming victim. (Frankly, I was surprised no mechanized body armor or cry of "Get away from her, you bitch!!" came into play.) Another episode kit-bashed a "Deep Space Nine" episode with a "Next Generation" segment — both of them second-stringers at best — to tell the fairytale-set story of a friendship between a disembodied entity living in a nebula and a child. (In that case, too, what might have been a major character was prematurely dispensed with, along with a potentially much more expansive story arc.)

It's already known that Season Two of "Strange New Worlds" (which has just wrapped principle production) will feature a new actor in the role of a younger Captain Kirk. "A Quality of Mercy" offers equally big legacy character presence. It works for the episode; it remains to be seen if it will work against the show as a whole. Every TV series can be expected to need a season or two to find its voice and hit its stride, but let's hope that the writers and producers of this series remember the mission brief contained in the show's own title; "strange" and "new" are the watchwords going forward. This show has too much fresh potential of its own to ignore them.

"Star Trek: Strange New Worlds" finishes its first season with "A Quality of Mercy," streaming at Paramount+ starting July 7.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.