Dinner aboard the Enterprise isn’t always smooth sailing, as Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ latest episode, “Charades” illustrates.
It seems Star Trek: Strange New Worlds may make strange changes for Spock (Ethan Peck) a mid-season tradition. The first season’s midpoint episode, “Spock Amok,” saw Spock and T’Pring (Gia Sandhu) experience an unintended body swap. This season’s midpoint episode, “Charades,” sees Spock turned fully human by the ancient, extra-dimensional Kerkhovians.
The aliens’ timing couldn’t be worse: Spock and T’Pring are holding their V’Shal, their ceremonial engagement dinner, aboard the Enterprise, and much rides on Spock’s ability to convince T’Pring’s parents—mostly her mother, T’Pril (Ellora Patnaik)—that he is Vulcan enough for their daughter.
The V’Shal dinner scenes in “Charades” are some of the funniest sequences Strange New Worlds has yet given us. Everyone involved turns in terrific performances, especially Patnaik, who delivers what must be one of the best lines ever given to a Vulcan in the franchise: “A Vulcan should have a more resilient bladder.”
I also enjoyed Michael Benyaer as Sevet, T’Pring’s father. Sevet seems curious about and willing to explore human culture, but T’Pril’s insistence on Vulcan purity keeps him from doing so. Sevet and T’Pril may skirt the edge of the “henpecked husband with overbearing wife” trope from ‘50s and ‘60s sitcoms, but the joke doesn’t seem misogynistic or outmoded in these skilled actors’ hands.
While I thought the dinner scenes might descend into madcap, slapstick chaos, they never do. Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush) deliver a cure for Spock’s condition in time to bring the V’Shal to a successful finish—even though T’Pring, on learning how Spock hid his condition from her, decides they need time apart. This separation makes space for Spock and Chapel to acknowledge their feelings for each other, in one of the most electric “will-they-or-won’t-they” scenes on TV since Dave and Maddie finally got together in Moonlighting way back in 1987.
Even so, the V’Shal in “Charades” takes its place in a fine Star Trek tradition of dinner scenes that flirt with disaster—and some that actually end up there. Here are three times dinner aboard the Enterprise threatened to, or actually did, go sour.
“Space Seed” (Star Trek: The Original Series, Season 1, Episode 22)
Marla McGivers suggests a formal dinner aboard the Enterprise to welcome Khan to the 23rd century. But as Kirk and Spock press Khan for details of his “extraordinary journey” from the past, the former, genetically enhanced dictator reveals more than he intended to about his past and future ambitions.
“It has been said,” says Khan, “that social occasions are only warfare concealed. Many prefer it more honest, more open.” By the abrupt end of this “state dinner,” just such an open conflict between Khan and Kirk has become more imminent and inevitable.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991)
The banquet scene in which the Enterprise crew hosts Chancellor Gorkon and his retinue from Kronos One must be the franchise’s most famous disastrous dinner. From comments about appreciating Shakespeare “in the original Klingon” to Kirk none-too-subtly comparing General Chang to Hitler, the dinner is a debacle. As Spock observes after the Klingons leave, it will not be a distinguished episode “in the annals of diplomacy.”
It turns out the dinner was nearly disastrous behind the scenes, too. In his memoir The View from the Bridge (Plume, 2010), director and co-screenwriter Nicholas Meyer recalls having to bribe the actors to eat the blue food on the table. “And, of course,” Meyer writes, “being actors, they chowed down for bucks . . . . There must have been close to twenty diners in the sequence, so we had to keep photographing the scene over and over to cover all the participants” (pg. 218).
“Haven” (Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 1, Episode 11)
The V’Shal in “Charades” reminded me most of the dinner scene in “Haven.” It, too, is an engagement dinner, celebrating the impending nuptials of Counselor Deanna Troi and Wyatt Miller.
Unlike the V’Shal, Deanna and Wyatt’s engagement dinner aboard the Enterprise actually does devolve into disaster. Wyatt’s parents and Lwaxana Troi can’t treat each other with civility. Wyatt’s father does show interest in hearing about the traditionally nude Betazed wedding rituals, only to be rebuked by his wife. (I think the Sevet and T’Pril dynamic in “Charades” must be deliberately echoing the Wyatts’ relationship.)
Mr. Homn keeps sounding a small gong throughout the meal—“the Betazed way of giving thanks for the food we eat”—while imbibing massive quantities of alcohol. And the dinner ends when Deanna storms out in anger at the families’ “petty bickering,” knocking the gong over as she does.
Even though Starfleet crews get much of their food from replicators, the franchise keeps putting them in formal dining situations where stakes are high and things can go wrong—even as recently as Saru’s attempt to host the Discovery crew for dinner in “Forget Me Not.” Whenever people break bread together when stakes are high, mishaps may be on the menu!