Return to Tomorrow
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” (SNW) returns this week with the first of a ten episode second season. The first season of SNW—save for one or two disappointing installments—was one of the strongest seasons of Trek in awhile. The cast is uniformly excellent, and the return to an episodic format (with only minor seasonal arcs) was very welcome, in light of modern Star Trek’s often less than successful attempts at serialization.
The end of season one saw Capt. Pike (Anson Mount) coming to grips with his immutable fate as a paralyzed, horribly-disfigured future accident victim, while his trusted First Officer, Una Chin-Riley (Rebecca Romijn) has been taken into custody, after it’s revealed that she’s a genetically-engineered Illyrian (genetically-engineered persons are barred from Starfleet service).
“The Broken Circle”
Directed by Chris Fisher and written by coproducers Henry Alonso Myers & Akiva Goldsman, the episode begins with Captain Pike (Anson Mount) speaking to an in-custody Number One (Rebecca Romijn) via subspace, as they confer about her defense counsel. Vowing not to give up on her, Pike promises to take a shuttle and meet with his disheartened First Officer in person.
Note: While not entirely ignoring Number One’s cliffhanger from last season, this episode does a bait-and-switch by focusing instead on Spock, Chapel and Dr. M’Benga in lieu of Number One’s highly anticipated court-martial, which will feature in the next episode. It’s hardly a secret that Number One will return to duty soon, given that the trailers for season 2 have already shown as much.
This leaves Pike to hand over the Enterprise to Lt. Spock (Ethan Peck) who is experiencing difficulty in containing his emotions following the death of his friend, Commander Hemmer (“All Those Who Wander”). Pike insists that Spock will do just fine, since the ship isn’t expected to leave Starbase One during her current inspection. “Famous last words,” Spock grimly quips. Visiting sickbay for his emotional turmoil, Dr. M’Benga (Babs Olusanmokun) prescribes musical therapy, giving Spock the Vulcan lyre he’s later seen relaxing with many times in TOS Star Trek.
Note: Nice bit of canonical foreshadowing between M’Benga and Spock, since TOS Star Trek established that M’Benga was an expert in Vulcan medicine (“A Private Little War”), making it “logical” that M’Benga would know exactly how to treat Spock’s condition of emotional distress. It also reinforces that Vulcan emotions are more intense than those of humans (TNG’s “Sarek”).
With a team of nosy, intrusive Starbase One ‘inspectors’ examining the Enterprise and its operations with a fine-tooth comb, newly-commissioned Ensign Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) receives a cryptic, coded message from Security Chief La’an Noonien-Singh (Christina Chong), who’s on a leave of absence following a trail of survivors from a Gorn attack. This trail leads La’an to the dilithium mining planet Kajitar IV, on the edge of Klingon space—a planet currently under the alternating stewardship of the Klingons, per terms of a peace treaty in the aftermath of the recent Federation-Klingon war. La’an warns that a dangerous attempt to reignite the war is currently underway. However, entering Kajitaran space during Klingon usage of the planet would also be an act of war. The decision is Spock’s.
Note: Are there “no other ships in the quadrant” (that old excuse) to respond to this possible threat to galactic peace?
Spock calls his trusted officers, including Dr. M’Benga, Nurse Chapel, helm officer Lt. Ortegas (Melissa Navia) and navigator Lt. Mitchell (Rong Fu) into the briefing room, where he announces his intention to rescue La’an and uncover the Klingon plot. He asks for volunteers only, and no one refuses. Trying to get rid of the intrusive inspectors, Lt. Mitchell creates a false warp core breach in the engine room, which doesn’t go unnoticed by Starbase Ones’s engineering inspector Commander Pelia (Carol Kane); an older, eccentric humanoid who confronts acting captain Spock with her discovery…
Note: Carol Kane (“When a Stranger Calls,” TV’s “Taxi”) brings considerable experience to the role of Pelia. Pelia is not a typical Starfleet officer by any stretch of the imagination, and I welcome her arrival. Her character’s backstory is teased just enough to hook us. She’s from a long-lived humanoid species, much like TNG’s El-Aurians, but with an impish mischievousness more like Star Wars’ “Yoda” from “The Empire Strikes Back.” It’s also refreshing to see a new regular character on a Star Trek series who kicks ageism in its ass.
Realizing that lying to Pelia would be impossible, Spock tells her exactly why he’s stealing the Enterprise. Pelia suggests creating a more convincing warp core breach by venting plasma, and Spock accepts her unexpected support. Uhura recognizes Pelia’s odd, lisping accent as “Lanthanite”; a humanoid species gifted with long-lifespans, who also lived on Earth among humans, until they were discovered in the 22nd century. With the other inspectors and Starbase personnel fooled, Enterprise is ordered to clear Starbase One, as Spock sets a course for Kajitar IV (“I want this ship to go…NOW!”).
Note: Spock’s ‘get underway’ line—something each Star Trek captain has (“Make it so,” “Engage,” “Take us out” et al)—clearly needs a little work, but it provides a bit of in-character humor.
With the Enterprise hidden in a convenient ring of iron and ice orbiting the planet, an undercover Spock, M’Benga, Uhura and Chapel rendezvous with La’an, who has found young Oriana (Emma Ho) and other Gorn attack survivors she was seeking. M’Benga and Chapel tend to the survivors’ injuries with Federation medical technology. After besting a boorish Klingon in a bloodwine drinking contest, La’an tells Spock and Uhura about a group of Klingon renegades, “the Broken Circle,” who plan to use Federation weapons and technology to reignite the war with the Federation. To that end, La’an has been posing as a rogue arms dealer, hoping to Starfleet phasers to the Klingon plotters as she gathers more intel on the scope of their plan.
Note: Chapel is sensitive to war-veteran M’Benga’s lingering PTSD following the Klingon-Federation war, which was seen in Star Trek Discovery’s (DSC) first season (“The War Without, The War Within,” “Will You Take My Hand?”). Personally, I’ve never quite reconciled the Feds & Klingons having a long, bloody war that was never mentioned anywhere in the show’s long history until DSC. I also think this story could’ve worked just as well with Starfleet officers trying to prevent a first Federation/Klingon war. Oh well. This is an admittedly minor nit on my part. Moving on…
Later that night, La’an has her scheduled meeting with her Klingon buyers. Uhura and the others lurk in the shadows, as La’an presents a case of Starfleet-issue phaser pistols to the Klingons. While promising them a dozen pistols, she delivers six. The angered Klingons threaten to steal the shortened shipment without payment, forcing La’an to whip out a small handheld gizmo which she tells them is an antimatter detonator. With no choice, the Klingons back down and accept the six phasers.
Note: La’an’s arms deal with the Klingons is a winking homage to Princess Leia posing as an alien bounty hunter in “Return of the Jedi,” where Leia threatens to blow up Jabba and his minions with a “thermal detonator” (i.e. a grenade) in exchange for “yoto yoto” (which somehow translates to “Fifty thousand, no less”).
Meanwhile, undercover Starfleet medical officers M’Benga and Chapel are being pressed into service as they’re taken by the Broken Circle syndicate to a large underground hangar, where they see what appears to be a captured Federation starship being repaired and readied for launch…
Aboard the captured starship’s battle-damaged sickbay, Chapel and M’Benga treat Oriana’s parents for ion-radiation poisoning within the grounded ship’s sickbay, as M’Benga realizes such radiation means the use of Starfleet photonic weaponry, which the Broken Circle also possesses. Knowing they have to get word to the Enterprise, Chapel and M’Benga prepare to escape their Klingon overseers by taking an adrenaline-like drug which will give them temporary super-strength, and allow them to overcome the Klingons (of course). After dosing up, Chapel and M’Benga open a can of serious whoop-ass on the Klingons (who never think to simply stun the two Starfleet officers, of course), culminating in an orgy of violence…
Note: This green, super-drug (methamphetamine, adrenaline, whatever) is never given a name, nor is there a reason given for M’Benga to have it, other than it might’ve simply been a wise precaution on his part. One wonders if Starfleet outlawed future use of this mystery drug, since we never see humans use it on Klingons ever again, in any other Star Trek series…
Chapel and M’Benga are soon forced by overwhelming numbers—and the drug’s rapidly diminishing effects—to retreat into an airlock. With the door closed behind them, the entire ship begins to move. As the vessel launches into space, Chapel and M’Benga realize there’s only one helmet and a thruster pack with an emergency transponder beacon. With ‘Klingons at the gate’, M’Benga guesses they can last a minute outside in the vacuum of space, before the beacon is picked up and they’re (hopefully) rescued by the Enterprise…
Meanwhile, the Enterprise continues to fly stealthily through Kajitar IV’s ring of iron and ice as a Klingon D-7 approaches. As she smoothly navigates the debris, Lt. Ortegas detects another vessel emerging from the surface of the planet—a small Crossfield-class Federation starship. Realizing the ship is being used to restart the Federation-Klingon war, Spock hesitates to fire—concerned for Chapel and M’Benga’s safety—until he’s left with no choice. In full view of the Klingon vessel, Spock destroys the Crossfield-class ship. Just as Spock fears he may have killed Chapel and M’Benga, Uhura detects their transponder signal. Spock orders them beamed aboard immediately. The Klingon captain then hails the Enterprise, demanding an explanation. Spock tells him that the captured ship was being used to restart the war. The Klingon captain doesn’t believe him, until Spock agrees to meet him face-to-face over bloodwine…
Note: We hear Ortegas identify the captured ship as a “Crossfield-class,” but she’s clearly mistaken. I’m no expert, but the Crossfield class would be the same class as the starship Discovery, and the vessel in this episode is far smaller, and more rounded-looking than the longer, more angular USS Discovery. Granted, Ortegas isn’t entirely sure when she makes that determination, but even I could tell on my 13” iPad screen that it wasn’t a Crossfield-class ship (and I’m an old man with glasses). Incidentally, the Crossfield-class is named for test pilot Albert Scott Crossfield (1921-2006), the first man to fly at twice the speed of sound (Mach 2).
After a grateful (and tearful) Spock visits sickbay to confirm that Chapel and M’Benga are safe, he makes good on his promise to meet with the Klingons on Kajitar IV, and share a barrel of bloodwine to relax the tensions between them. Spock makes a surprisingly effective diplomat, as the Klingons take a shine to the young Vulcan, who proves he can drink bloodwine with the best of them.
Note: It’s this younger Spock who makes for a surprisingly good liaison with the Klingons, since his own emotions are less in-check than his future counterpart’s, perhaps giving him better insight to the similarly-unrestrained Klingons. Coming from a staunch Leonard Nimoy-fan, I must say that Ethan Peck’s Spock continues to grow on me.
As the celebration on Kajitar continues, Spock takes a moment to meet with Pelia, who offers herself as a candidate for the job of Chief Engineer aboard the Enterprise. She tells Spock that the greatest problem of being so long-lived is boredom, and she knows that serving aboard the Enterprise will never be dull. She also reveals that she knew Spock’s mother, Amanda Grayson, but promises to tell that story at a later time…
Note: I look forward to seeing what the mysterious yet playful Pelia might bring to the Enterprise, as she’s already very different from the gruff, almost Odo-like Hemmer (Bruce Horak). It’s hinted that Bruce Horak might return to the show in another role, which is possible, since the actor was nearly unrecognizable under his blue-white, antennaed Aenarian makeup.
With the stress of a second Klingon war averted, we see Spock—still recovering from his bloodwine hangover—taking Dr. M’Benga’s advice and strumming his lyre, a habit he would maintain throughout his service aboard the Enterprise (“Charlie X,” “Amok Time,” “The Paradise Syndrome,” “The Way to Eden”). Spock’s success with the Klingons helped to smooth things over with the angered brass at Starbase One, including Admiral Robert April (Adrian Holmes), who tells Spock that his hangover is punishment enough for the time being.
Note: Spock’s successful diplomatic headway with the Klingons may have been a factor in his later outreach to Klingon Chancellor Gorkon in “Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country” (1991) . This new addition to the character’s background makes perfect sense, showing that even Lt. Spock had a knack for diplomacy, much like his father, ambassador Sarek. In fact, future-Spock would spend more of his life as an ambassador than he would as a Starfleet officer.
Back at Starbase One, we see Admiral April taking a bit of heat for his resolution of Spock’s disobedience. He counters that Spock did them all a great favor, since he saved the Federation from a war on two fronts, instead of the single, imminent conflict it’s currently facing with the Gorn…
The episode closes with a lovely dedication to the late Nichelle Nichols (1932-2022):
“For Nichelle, who was first through the door and showed us the stars. Hailing frequencies forever open.”
Note: While I enjoy SNW very much, I am not fond of the way the show has retconned the Gorn; reducing them from understandably-wronged sentient reptiles (TOS’ “Arena”) into a parasitic, “ALIEN”-like infestation to be wiped out. Last season’s “All Those Who Wander” was little more than a naked ripoff of James Cameron’s “ALIENS,” saved only by Hemmer’s poignant sacrifice at the end. I also wonder how future Enterprise captain James T. Kirk could have absolutely no knowledge of the Gorn in TOS’ “Arena,” since they played such a large role in his vessel’s history. He’s even unfamiliar with the species’ name! “A creature that apparently calls itself a Gorn,” Kirk says in that episode. This makes Kirk look terribly ignorant.
Summing It Up
If I have any nits with “The Broken Circle,” it’s that it glorifies and almost fetishizes the excessive violence between Chapel, M’Benga and the Klingons in the escape scene; there are waaay too many slow-motion shots of the two characters viciously beating Klingons to pulp. Dr. M’Benga even savagely beats a Klingon for information (!). I would like to have seen M’Benga, a very gentle gentleman, experiencing remorse from his actions afterward.
On the plus side, this episode also makes for a tougher, stronger Nurse Chapel than TOS Star Trek ever hinted. This was the same woman who couldn’t bring herself to slap Spock for his own good (TOS’ “A Private Little War”), but is now dosing up on adrenaline-igniting like drugs before kicking mountains of Klingon ass. Personally I accept this new interpretation of Nurse Christine Chapel, who’s ably played by Jess Bush, since she is a much better character than the late Majel Barrett Roddenberry was ever allowed to play. It’s a shame she hints at leaving for “archeological medicine school” soon—a nod to her future engagement with Dr. Roger Korby (TOS’ “What are Little Girls Made Of?”).
The MVP of this episode however, has to be Lt. Spock (Ethan Peck), who hasn’t fully recovered from his loss of emotional control in season one (“All Those Who Wander”). Taking command of Enterprise while Pike is off to aid with Number One’s defense, Spock makes some bold moves; stealing the Enterprise (something Kirk would later do for him in “Star Trek III: 35 years of “The Search For Spock”), and employing some unorthodox ‘cowboy diplomacy’ to ease tensions with the Klingons, after violating the Klingon/Federation peace treaty by visiting Kajitar IV during its temporary Klingon stewardship. Well done, Spock.
With Pike away, Spock, Chapel, M’Benga and newcomer Pelia (Carol Kane) are given the spotlight in “The Broken Circle,” a season opener that leaves the Number One court-martial to be continued. I’m still waiting for Melissa Navias’ intriguing Lt. Ortegas to have her episode someday, but all in all, a promising start for season two.
Where To Watch
“Star Trek: Strange New Worlds” is available to stream exclusively on Paramount+, as are all episodes of Star Trek, past and present. The first season of SNW is also available on DVD and BluRay from CBS/Paramount.