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‘Star Trek: Strange New Worlds – Season Two’ (Blu-ray review)

Paramount

I described the first season of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds as “the Star Trek of my imagination” upon its debut in 2022.

Following the adventures of Starfleet Captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount) and the crew of the starship Enterprise as they explore the edges of Federation space in the years before the classic 1960s television series, this prequel delivered a blend of classic episodic storytelling and robust characterization that provided a relief from the trend of dense plotting and domineering story arcs that have become the norm both within the Trek franchise and across the entertainment landscape.

The combination of a back-to-basics approach with contemporary sensibilities and production values resonated with viewers and critics. Star Trek: Strange New Worlds was awarded the 2022 Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Series (streaming).

Set in the 23rd century in the decade before Star Trek: The Original Series, the show’s second season premiered on streamer Paramount+ in June 2023 and is now available on Blu-ray, DVD, and 4K UHD SteelBook.

The second season of Strange New Worlds follows along practically uninterrupted from season one in terms of both story and style. The series continues to deliver mostly standalone episodes woven together by character interactions and a very loose series arc involving the encroaching threat of the little understood Gorn species.

The prequel also continues to mirror its 1960s inspiration by exhibiting a wide tonal range in storytelling, from capers to psychological thrillers to characters absurdly bursting into song. The new season delivers more of what worked well in its initial ten episode run.

Season Two also relies more upon franchise canon and gimmick storytelling than its predecessor, which truly delivered a strange new world nearly every episode. The stories are all well executed, but an overreliance on Easter eggs, call backs, and the urge to hit established canon story beats could push the show in a more conventional direction.

The first two episodes tidy up loose ends and get the band back together after the end of season one which saw Security Chief La’an Noonien Singh (Christina Chong) taking a leave of absence from the ship and First Officer Una Chin-Riley, a.k.a. Number One (Rebecca Romijin), facing court martial for hiding her identity as a genetically modified being.

“The Broken Circle” kicks off the season in traditional Trek high adventure mode as Spock (Ethan Peck) and the crew steal the Enterprise in order to rescue La’an from a Klingon mining colony while Pike is away securing an attorney to defend the imprisoned Number One. The episode sets the tone for how the season will play out.

Where Season One boldly made first contact with a new civilization in its self-contained premiere, season two sets its roots firmly in Trek mythology from Starbase One to drinking blood wine with the series’ signature antagonists. Even Spock’s decision to steal the ship serves as a sort of retroactive foreshadowing of a similar decision his older self will make in the TOS episode “The Menagerie.” Although rooted in the old and familiar, “The Broken Circle” delivers a solidly entertaining result with well-paced action and well-balanced emotional dynamics.

The episode also introduces actress Carol Kane in the recurring role of the Enterprise’s new Chief Engineer, Pelia. The enigmatic and mercurial officer proves to be an amusing foil to the established crew members in several appearances throughout the season.

Paul Wesley returns for three episodes as James T. Kirk. Wesley is the recipient of the 2024 Saturn Award for Best Guest Star in a Television Series for his portrayal of the classic character. Kirk and his future friends and crewmates are properly introduced to each other this season after the character was teased in an alternate timeline at the end of Season One. Kirk also serves as the ironic focus of an unexpected emotional arc for the normally reserved La’an.

Also returning in their recurring roles are Mia Kirshner and Gia Sandhu as Spock’s mother, Amanda, and his fiancée, T’Pring, in a “meet the in-laws” farce called “Charades” in which Spock must navigate a ceremony with his future Vulcan in-laws after being accidentally transformed into a full human.

Actor Bruce Horak, who portrayed Chief Engineer Hemmer in season 1, returns to the show in a variety of roles, along with Adrian Holmes as Admiral Robert April and Melanie Scrofano as Captain Marie Batel. Longtime Trek viewers will also spot Clint Howard, who has been appearing in roles throughout the franchise since the 1966 Original Series episode “The Corbomite Maneuver.”

Strange New Worlds pulls off a tricky crossover episode with the tongue-in-cheek and highly self-referential animated series Star Trek: Lower Decks entitled “Those Old Scientists.” Jack Quaid and Tawny Newsome appear as themselves as Ensigns Boimler and Mariner while Noel Wells, Eugene Cordero, and Jerry O’Connell provide the voices of their animated Lower Decks crew mates.

The production runs with another risky gimmick in the musical episode “Subspace Rhapsody.” The episodes lands by anchoring itself firmly in the characters and taking the opportunity to advance several relationship threads, notably the tentative romance developing throughout the series between Spock and Nurse Chapel (Jess Bush).

One of the strengths of the episodic approach of Strange New Worlds is the show’s ability to bring different characters and relationships into focus with each story. “Lost in Translation” sees Ensign Uhura (Celia Rose Gooding) grapple with the loss of her mentor, Hemmer. The dark episode “Under the Cloak of War” reveals Dr. M’Benga’s struggle with war trauma when a Kilngon defector turned Federation ambassador arrives on the Enterprise. The shifting focus allows the core cast to become fully realized characters rather than simply well executed personalities.

The season closes with “Hegemony” which sees the Enterprise dealing with a Gorn attack on a Federation colony and introduces another classic crew member into the prequel. The story ends on a cliffhanger with echoes of the final moments of the classic Next Generation episode “The Best of Both Worlds.”

Exteras include alternate, deleted and extended scenes and featurettes.

While Star Trek: Strange New Worlds continues to offer the rich situational and tonal variety of the original Star Trek, it risks becoming just another flavor of the franchise. Leaning too heavily into canon and relying on continuity call backs and Easter eggs is a path to franchise fatigue.

The promise still lies in the premise—Strange New Worlds, a new and different adventure every week.

 

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