These three episodes were Strange New Worlds season 1 standouts.
I’ve been rewatching Star Trek: Strange New Worlds season one in anticipation of season two, which debuts on Paramount Plus on June 15. My rewatch has been my first opportunity to watch these ten episodes in a short timespan, and without commercial breaks (since I’m unwilling to spend my quatloos on the streamer’s ad-free tier). As a result, while I still think Strange New Worlds season one is a mixed bag, I have a greater appreciation for what the show has been able to accomplish.
Strange New Worlds’ greatest strength is its nature as a true ensemble show. While Anson Mount gets a lot of well-deserved attention for his portrayal of Captain Christopher Pike—and for his hair—Pike isn’t the focus of every episode. (Arguably, the episodes squarely focused on Pike are the season’s weakest, but I’ll leave that argument for another time.) Instead, most of the regulars have had significant chances to be in the spotlight—and it looks like season two will finally give Melissa Navia’s Erica Ortegas that same chance to shine. What’s more, Strange New Worlds devotes substantial screen time to these characters’ relationships without sacrificing its focus on exploration and adventure.
As I rewatched Strange New Worlds season one, I thought these three episodes best illustrate the series’ strong suits, and deserve a spot on any list of best Star Trek episodes, able to stand up against the brightest installments from any of the franchise’s series.
“Children of the Comet” (S1 E2)
Written by Henry Alonso Meyers and Sarah Tarkoff
Directed by Maja Vrvilo
I have praised “Children of the Comet” in this forum before, and still believe it’s a first-rate Star Trek story. It puts the Enterprise and the audience into a decidedly alien but instantly engaging situation. The landing party’s exploration of the comet threatening Persephone III, the Shepherds’ confrontation with the Enterprise—which they believe threatens the comet, M’hanit—and Spock’s high-stakes, high-octane redirection of the comet’s trajectory all keep this episode moving at a fast clip. Celia Rose Gooding’s beautiful, nuanced performance as Cadet Uhura starts the season’s most clearly defined character arc. The episode is our first introduction to Bruce Horak as Chief Engineer Hemmer—fiercely dedicated to his work but also disarmingly funny. And it develops some fascinating reflections on fate and freedom that may have planted seeds for a different, ultimate resolution to Captain Pike’s story than Star Trek fans expect.
“The Elysian Kingdom” (S1 E8)
Written by Akela Cooper and Onitra Johnson
Directed by Amanda Row
I’ve been surprised to see no small amount of dislike for “The Elysian Kingdom” among Strange New Worlds season one viewers online. The episode’s been criticized as being silly or even “a bit frivolous.” One viewer on IMDB said this kind of story, putting the characters in wildly out-of-character situations, “came far, FAR too early in the series.” But these kind of episodes generally do come early in Star Trek series. “The Naked Time” was only the fourth episode of The Original Series. Its sequel, “The Naked Now,” was only the second of Star Trek: The Next Generation. The juxtapositions in “The Elysian Kingdom” work well and are a lot of fun, because we’ve already spent seven hours with these characters. Besides, the real meat of the episode isn’t its fairy tale trappings, but Dr. M’Benga’s deeply moving farewell—both of them—to his daughter Rukiya. Babs Olusanmokun brings a warmth to his role I trust he’ll still have occasion to display, even now that Rukiya lives as a cosmic consciousness.
“All Those Who Wander” (S1 E9)
Written by Davy Perez
Directed by Christopher J. Byrne
No doubt “All Those Who Wander” owe much to both Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), but darned if it doesn’t work! While some long-time Star Trek fans are skeptical about Strange New Worlds’ reinvention of the Gorn as horrific creatures, one could argue the move only makes Captain Kirk’s encounter with them in “Arena” all the more meaningful. (Besides, who said there couldn’t be more than one variety of Gorn?) This is a tense and thrilling episode that’s also full of beautiful character moments, including the marvelously tough and tender scene between Spock and Nurse Chapel after Hemmer’s memorial service. Hemmer’s death is, of course, one of the most emotionally shattering in the entire franchise. We didn’t get to spend nearly enough time with him. And while one can never say “never” in science fiction, Hemmer’s sacrificial death simply feels like one that is going to “stick.” It should—not because I wouldn’t enjoy seeing Bruce Horak return as Hemmer, but because his death reminds us, as he counsels Uhura in this episode, to open ourselves to and make a home among others while we can. Between Hemmer’s death, La’an Noonien-Singh’s leave of absence to help young Oriana find her family, and Uhura’s apparent resolution to pursue a career in communications, “All Those Who Wander” feels more like a season finale than Strange New Worlds’ actual first season finale, “A Quality of Mercy.”