Star Trek: SNW is Really Good Trek!
I’m a huge Science-Fiction fan, which I think anyone who knows me is very well aware of. I enjoy most Sci-Fi to some extent, and my two favourite TV series of all time are Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. In case you were wondering … yes, Benjamin Sisko (Avery Brooks) is my favourite Star Trek captain.
Now, I’m not a dedicated Trekkie in that I get totally absorbed by the francise. I follow a bunch of other franchises too. I always have a few Sci-Fi shows on my Currently Watching list, and I have a pretty long list of Sci-Fi on rotation. I own a bunch of them on DVD and Bluray as well, so I don’t have to chase them around the numerous streaming services we have these days. I’ve been “cut off” in the middle of a rewatch before. I hate that!
So, having been watching Sci-Fi regularly for about 30 years, I’ve naturally seen several of my favourites multiple times, and I’m getting to know them pretty well.
The New Star Trek Era
With over a decade of Star Trek drought after the cancellation of Star Trek: Enterprise in 2005 – no, I don’t count the alternate timeline movies, which I consider more like fan fiction – I was really excited to hear about the new series, Star Trek: Discovery, coming in 2017.
I was particularly excited about Sonequa Martin-Green being cast in the lead role. I loved her in The Walking Dead. While I came to love the new characters and cast a lot, I really didn’t like the stories of the new show. I disliked the new Klingons, but gave that a pass. I really hated the spore drive though. While efficient space travel is necessary to make most space Sci-Fi work, this felt like cheating. They also played a lot on my absolutely least favourite Sci-Fi trope of all time: The alternate timeline where everyone has an evil twin. Yes, Deep Space Nine did it too. They are my least favourite episodes of that show. I lost interest in Discovery around when it disappeared from Netflix, and there’s a bunch of episodes I haven’t watched yet. I’ll get around to them eventually.
When Star Trek: Picard was announced, I was a little more reserved. While the show has received a lot of criticism, I’ve enjoyed it. Especially the first season. I just loved seeing new material with my old friends from 80s and 90s era Trek.
Roaming the Stars with Anson
It felt very right to me that the third Star Trek show of the new era starred Anson Mount, revisting his role as Captain Pike from Discovery. I primarily know him from the Western series Hell on Wheels, where he starred alongside Sci-Fi legends like Colm Meaney and Christopher Heyerdahl.
This time around I didn’t set my hopes too high. but oh boy have Star Trek: Strange New Worlds delivered. While I don’t mind at all the longer story lines of Discovery and Picard, getting back to a more episodic story telling has worked well for this show. Again, the creators have managed to pick a great cast and created excellent characters. But more than that, the story telling of Strange New Worlds is clearly returning to the francise’s roots. In particular in the latest episode is this evident.
Ad Astra per Aspera
This section contains spoilers for S2 E2 of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds.
“Ad Astra per Aspera” is the title of the second episode of season two. It means “to the stars through hardship”. The episode is the court-martial of Una Chin-Riley, the First Officer of the Enterprise. She is on trial for concealing that she was genetically modified before birth, a practice that is outlawed in the Federation. A fact she’s hidden for her entire career, as was revealed in season one.
The theme of this episode is injustice – on being part of a persecuted and outlawed minority – and being on trial for being born as who you are.
This is Star Trek at its best: Addressing real world issues in a not very subtle Sci-Fi context. The voice of justice is represented by the defence, Una’s one time friend Neera Ketoul and fellow Illyrian. The core of her defence is perhaps best summed up by her argument that “if a law is not just, then I ask: how are we to trust those who created that law to serve justice?”
The episode isn’t very subtle about its historical context either, and lists “slavery, apartheid, discrimination against people for their religious beliefs, how they loved, their gender identity, or even the color of their skin.”
The conclusion of the trial is only a partial victory in that the law stands, but Chin-Riley is shown leniency on a personal level after Ketoul cites a Federation law that grants the persecuted a right to asylum. As so often in the real world, the world does not turn on a small victory like this, but it is perhaps a step on the road to justice. The struggle goes on.
The episode concludes with Chin-Riley retaking command on the bridge of the Enterprise as the ship’s First Officer.
Great Trek Trials
The court trial episode form isn’t particularly new to Star Trek. Two similar episodes that stand out from earlier shows is The Next Generation episode “The Measure of a Man”, and a less successful and differently themed episode in Deep Space Nine titled “Rules of Engagement”.
In “The Measure of a Man”, Data’s right to be considered a person, as opposed to mere property as an android, is on trial. It’s one of the first really great episodes of the series. I’m guessing that the writers of “Ad Astra per Aspera” were inspired by both its success and its message, and it deliveres a lot of the same power. It also plays on similar elements to evoke an emotional response from the viewers: Both trials present a prosecutor that is cast into the role while being connected to the side on trial.
In “The Measure of a Man” it is William Riker who has to argue against his friend’s personhood. In “Ad Astra per Aspera” it is Captain Batel, who was once in a romantic relationship with Captain Pike, who has to establish the guilt of her former lover’s First Officer – and potentially drag him too in front of the court for knowing about Chin-Riley’s “crime”.
The Deep Space Nine episode is a little different. Here, Worf is on trial for blowing up what is claimed to be a Klingon refugee transport. The trial focuses on his ability to quell his Klingon blood thirst and uphold the Federation principles. It also dwells on Worf’s own feelings and insecurity about whether he did the right thing or not. He is exonerated when it is revealed that the whole incident was a set-up, and there were no civilians on the ship. There is no crime because there were no victims, but the act itself could easily have resulted in such a crime. The episode has a number of issues, but the topic of collateral damage in wartime is still a poignant one.
What all three episodes have in common, is how they establish the charcaters’ own personal stories and journeys. They all involve characters we have come to empathise with, and emotionally invested in. Putting that under threat is a good recipe for engaging and great television.
While there is a lot of “Classic Star Trek” in Strange New Worlds, and this episode isn’t necessarily original in that regard, it is still one of the best episodes thus far in the New Era of series. This is Star Trek with some serious oomph, like I remember from the old series. It’s the stuff I come back to watch again another time.
This is really good Sci-Fi, and I love it!
You can use your Mastodon account to comment on this post by replying to this thread.
Alternatively, you can copy and paste the URL below into the search field of your Fediverse app or the web interface of your Mastodon server.
The Mastodon integration is based on the implementation by Carl Schwan.