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I just finished watching Star Trek Strange New Worlds Season 1, Episode 2, Children of the Comet.
The show starts on the surface of a desolate planet with a sparse and impoverished population of humanoids barely surviving. One of them looks up and sees what appears to be a comet in the sky.
Meanwhile, aboard the Enterprise, Uhura has been invited to join the senior staff in the Captain’s quarters for dinner. Ortega advised her to show up in dress uniform, but when she arrives, Uhura discovers that everyone is dressed very casually, including the Captain. In fact, dress is so casual, that Ortega looks like the 23rd century version of a “homie in the hood” complete with belly button reveal. On an actual Naval vessel, even if dress for an event were casual, it wouldn’t be that casual.
Ortega is shaping up to be a class A jerk which she continues to display as the episode progresses. In fact, both she and La’an seem grumpy most of the time, but the former because she’s arrogant and the latter because she’s depressed.
Uhura discovers Hemmer (Bruce Horak) who has just joined the ship. He looks like an albino Andorian though not as charming. He’s also blind, and so far I haven’t figured out if that’s a trait of his species or it’s unique to him. When Uhura tries to help him prepare food, he pretty much snaps her head off. Spock enters the situation, but Hemmer’s insults have no effect on him.
During this encounter, Pike tells a “Dad joke” about how he goofed up once as a young officer saying that sometimes things go so bad, you have to laugh. That becomes a recurring theme in the episode. So does Uhura humming when she’s nervous, especially folk songs from her native land. That will become important later as well (lots of foreshadowing).
At dinner, in spite of feeling like at least some people there are against her, Uhura reveals her “tragic backstory.” Parents and brother are dead, she didn’t fit in anywhere, even as a brilliant linguist, so she ran away to Star Fleet. She doesn’t feel at home there either, which brings criticism from Spock.
At least as was revealed in the original series episode Journey to Babel, Spock only feels at home in Star Fleet, so I could see why he’d be a little miffed (even if he doesn’t show it very much).
The Enterprise discovers the comet heading toward planet Persephone Three (interesting name) where the primitive humanoids live. On its present course, it will impact the planet, destroying all life.
Pike takes this occasion to whisper to Number One, “I love my job.” That is so odd. Last episode he was looking for an excuse to stay off of starships forever. The reason for that hasn’t changed. Sure, after the prior mission, he came to a new understanding about himself, but the torture hasn’t gone away. But except for those tortured moments, he acts like a kid playing with a new toy. Cue “happy child with a side of moodiness.”
To solve the problem of the comet’s course, Pike asks for suggestions. Both Ortega and Number One endorse using photon torpedoes attached to the surface to change the comet’s course. Pike goes along with it, showing both a very casual style and what seems to be a shoddy sense of command.
The photons are fired and then the comet raises shields. How did that happen?
Sensors reveal that it’s some sort of artifact and has a structure mostly buried beneath the surface. It raises shields only when threatened so a landing party can beam down. La’an leading, she takes Kirk, Spock, and Uhura since she’s on her “landing party rotation.” Uhura’s really unhappy about beaming onto the artifact. Oh well, she’s a young cadet.
As an aside, I looked up the actress playing Uhura, Celia Rose Gooding. I know that the original Uhura, Nichelle Nichols was very accomplished musically, having an enormous vocal range. In her younger years, she would have been ideal for this episode. As it turns out, twenty-two year old Gooding debuted on Broadway and won a 2021 Grammy for Best Musical Theater Album. Given that, I thought only having her hum was undercutting her talent.
Preparing them for the away mission, Christine flirts with Spock who is immune, but I suspect this Christine flirts with a lot of people (she’s later revealed to be bi so probably women and well as men). This clashes with the original Star Trek where Chapel has a deep attraction to Spock resulting in her falling in (unrequited) love.
The foursome beam over but must wear spacesuits. There’s a breathable atmosphere only inside the structure, although why would it be breathable by Earth people and Vulcans?
Then they find “the egg”. Anyone who has ever watched Alien (1979) knows you never, ever mess with an egg on an alien spacecraft. It has a bunch of symbols on it and Sam Kirk, on the mission as the resident xenoanthropologist, asks Uhura if she can translate them. She’s terrified of just about everything about then, but does recognize that there is a repeating pattern.
Kirk, as impatient as his younger brother but not as lucky, approaches the egg and is electrocuted. Now we discover that they must be inside the structure, because they can take Kirk’s helmet off. Suddenly communications is lost and the transporter lock is broken. The comet put up its shields again. La’an is able to set Kirk’s suit to use its defibrillator since Sam’s heart has stopped.
That sounded odd, so I looked it up. I confirmed that a defibrillator will not restart a completely stopped heart. It’s designed to “detect irregular heart rhythms and shock them back to normal rhythms, not to shock a heart back to life once it has flatlined.”
So Sam should be dead, and there is no Dr. McCoy on the landing party to provide medical aid. But Sam’s alive and La’an sets his suit to keep him sedated. Someone on the writing staff forgot to do their research.
Meanwhile, an alien ship attacks the Enterprise. Pike hails them and they call themselves the Shepherds. They have taken an ancient oath (the origins lost to antiquity) to guard these sacred and holy artifacts and will destroy any ship interfering. They don’t care if it hits the planet or not. They believe the artifact knows what it’s doing and the Shepherds are only there to make sure it gets its way.
Pike is stumped, which seems to be his leading characteristic in this episode. The only thing that’s getting bigger and badder on him is his Johnny Bravo hair, and its not an attractive look.
The Shepherd ship is faster and far more powerful than the Enterprise and Ortega advises Pike not to “piss them off.” Too late. They already know about the landing party which makes them pretty cranky. Pike wants a solution even if the crew has to break the laws of physics (something even Scotty couldn’t do in The Naked Time although Spock managed an alternate solution). Like a lot of starship Captains, all Pike has to do is give the orders and then intimidate his crew into solving actual problems.
On the comet, pressure is mounting. La’an is becoming even more snarky and Spock gives a “pep talk” to Uhura so bad that even she comments on it. At some point, she laughs due to reasons cited above. All seems lost until her nervousness causes Uhura to start humming again (remember I said it was important). The egg responds. That’s when Uhura gets to work which causes the egg to open up. She needs someone to hum with her in a particular pattern. La’an passes while Spock manages to lamely follow along.
I checked actor Ethan Peck’s background and while he’s played the cello, he doesn’t seem to be a vocalist. It shows.
This is where I thought Uhura and the egg should have started singing together. It would have showcased Gooding’s vocal talents and boosted Uhura’s confidence a thousand fold, making for a very dramatic and satisfying scene. Instead, the comet drops its shields and the landing party is beamed back aboard the Enterprise.
The Shepherds don’t take that well and start firing on the Enterprise. Uhura, instead of working on the problem which might be the only way to get the comet to change course, freezes, and it’s up to Spock to come up with a plan. The comet is only an hour away from impact.
I noticed during the battles that a couple of vents were issuing what looked like dry ice mist but it appeared way too controlled to be from system damage. At least this version of the 23rd century had invented fuses because none of the consoles exploded as they habitually did in the original series.
The alien vessel should have made a mess of the Enterprise with her shields down to 25 percent. They won’t keep out weapons fire at that level and would collapse well before the output fell to zero, but somehow they survive. Pike orders (finally he does something) phaser fire on the alien weapons and propulsion only. The first time I saw that happen it was on Picard’s Enterprise about a century in the future.
Oddly, it works, but only for a short time. What, the alien artifact has shields but the Shepherd spaceship doesn’t? Those phasers shouldn’t have gotten through on the first try, and if their technology is that superior, they shouldn’t have gotten through at all. But because the story required it, it happened.
I suppose this (and a bunch of other things) could be accounted for by something a commenter on my previous TikTok review said:
I see it as retro continuity we just suspend disbelief because technology and special effects are much better today.
Oh well. That could explain a few things.
Pike orders Ortega, who wants to be the best pilot in Star Fleet, to get the Enterprise ahead of the comet. They continue to be pummeled by the Shepherds but manage to get close enough to the comet to get the aliens to stop shooting. Pike says it’s because they don’t want to hit the comet. He either made a mistake or it was bad writing, because as they get even closer, the Shepherds start shooting again.
Pike “surrenders” to them once the Enterprise is in position, but the Shepherds aren’t having any of it. Pike says if they don’t help them, the Enterprise will crash into the comet and the engine explosion will destroy it. So the Shepherds relent and tractor beam them away.
That’s when Spock initiates his plan in a shuttlecraft and heads for the core of the comet.
The core. Before, they could beam to the surface but there was no mention of access to the core (as in center) of the artifact. But Spock puts up shields and encountering something that’s causing a lot of friction, manages to somehow (I never got the explanation) get the comet to change course.
In the process, the comet starts dropping an incredibly huge amount of water on the planet.
According to Christian and Jewish thought, in Genesis, before the flood, it never rained. Plants and people were fed water through a mist that rose from the ground. There was supposedly a large envelope of water “orbiting” Earth. I have no idea how that worked, but it’s what caused Noah’s flood along with massive geysers of water from deep beneath the crust.
Anyway, that’s what this reminded me of. It was enough water to permanently alter the planet’s climate, making it more suitable to life. On the planet’s surface, when the rain starts, people are rejoicing. I wondered why exactly. Did they know what rain was? If that much of it was coming down, they probably wouldn’t be prepared for the incredible floods that would result. The comet didn’t tell them how to make an ark.
Spock survives and laughs over the comm, saying that sometimes things go so bad you have to laugh. Actually, he lived and his plan worked, so in this case, nothing bad happened (assuming the planet’s population wasn’t in the middle of drowning).
The Shepherds, unaware of Spock’s actions, are pleased and leave with the comet.
So what good was Uhura? She was supposed to solve the problem with her skill sets but then Spock saved the day.
The proverbial dollar short and day late, she does solve the problem but what she learns is rather surprising. The comet knew it was going to change course all along and give water to the planet. So why did it need Spock? It probably didn’t but according to Uhura, it must have preordained Spock’s mission as the means to change its course, even though it could have done so by itself.
That means everything the Enterprise and her crew did during the episode was utterly meaningless. It’s like the artifact used them just because they were there. Put another way, the Enterprise became part of the plan because the show’s writers needed it to make their story work.
However, this gives Uhura some insight into herself and with another, better pep talk from Spock, makes her think she might have a home in Star Fleet after all.
This precognition, seeing into the future stuff also gives Pike and Number One something to talk about. It seems that throughout this short season, we’re going to have to live with Pike’s “tragic backstory” as part of every script.
The episode ends with Pike looking up the biographies of each of the cadets he is supposed to save in the accident. There are five of them, still children at this point.
The computer finds their records with ridiculous ease, even for the 23rd century. For instance, how many girls on Earth would have the name Andrea Lopez?
It’s an “okay” episode as far as it goes. Not great, not hideously awful. Plot holes I could fly a shuttlecraft through. Pike came off as inept most of the time, as if his greatest talent was telling “Dad jokes.” La’an and Ortega are just plain unlikeable. Christine is brilliant to the point of being obnoxious. I can almost forgive Spock since he’s younger than Nimoy’s version and still probably trying to figure himself out.
Oh, I found these hysterically funny takes on this episode at superanemic.com. Here’s an example:
Here’s my TikTok “Three-minutes or less” video review of the episode. Remember to support your indie authors and publishers. Sometime soon, we may be the only source of good storytelling left.
Oh, one more thing. Interplanetary and interstellar space are loaded with radiation. I always assumed that starships had anti-radiation shielding and that’s why no one died horribly in the void. When the landing party are about to beam onto the comet. Chapel gives them an injection to protect them from hard radiation hitting the comet’s surface. It lasts for two hours. After that, their insides turn to mush. When the comet’s shields came back up, did it protect them from the radiation. For that matter, did just being inside the thing help. After the injection and Uhura saying how much it hurt. it didn’t matter anymore. Another plot hole.