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I just finished watching “Star Trek Strange New Worlds” E7 The Serene Squall which I think was more unintentionally humorous than anything else. It also rivaled E5 Spock Amok as the lamest show to date.
We start off at a Vulcan penal colony where T’Pring is entering a personal log. Log entries are a great way to give the audience insight into what a character is thinking, but they’re also a very Star Fleet thing. Since T’Pring works for Vulcan law enforcement “rehabilitation,” why would they have a parallel process.
She’s talking with Spock who’s on the Enterprise about “spicing up” (T’Pring’s words) their relationship by introducing human sex practices. I didn’t know that there would be such a difference, but I guess there is. Spock is clearly uncomfortable with the idea and it gets tabled.
As an aside, we see a couple of brief scenes featuring Stonn (Roderick McNeil). You remember Stonn from Amok Time played then by Lawrence Montaigne. In that episode, in order to divorce Spock, T’Pring (Arlene Martel) challenged Spock to fight for her, her ultimate plan being to claim Stonn as her lover. I wonder if this is the shadow of things to come?
Not a minute later, Spock and Chapel are walking down the corridor and he confides to her about the whole “human sex” thing and T’Pring. Even young Vulcans know when to keep his mouth shut, but then Spock did also admit to “needing a friend.” Vulcans don’t have friends, so what the heck? Maybe T’Pring is right and Spock is too human.
Meanwhile, the Enterprise has picked up a Dr. Aspen (Jesse James Keitel) who says she was part of a group aboard three colony ships who were attacked by a local band of pirates. Pike recognizes that they are at the edge of Federation space or “The wild, wild west.” At the same time, he can’t ignore a humanitarian plea for help.
It will take a signal from Enterprise two days (remember that, because it’s important) to reach a Federation listening post, but Pike can’t wait that long for permission to exceed his jurisdiction. They’ll leave behind a string of communications buoys and proceed into the asteroid belt. It’s pretty tightly packed, reminding me of the Millennium Falcon’s problem in Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Apparently two of the colony ships have already been destroyed, but as the Enterprise goes deeper into the field, they hit an asteroid and trigger a trap. It was very original Star Trek episode The Tholian Web. As the web begins to get tighter around the Enterprise, was even a little like the Star Wars “trash masher” scene sort of. The solution is to blast one of two asteroids, the right one will set them free and the wrong one will kill them. Not unlike the “Star Trek Next Generation” episode Booby Trap.
Dr. Aspen has been showing an unusual fascination for Spock (T’Pring, Chapel, and now Aspen, Spock is a “chick magnet”). Spock has to “guess” at which asteroid to fire upon and Aspen pushes him into doing it. Fortunately, it’s the right one and they’re free. Really. The Enterprise has multiple phasers and photon torpedo ports. Why not just shoot both at once? Because the writers needed him to guess so the scene could serve the plot.
As the Enterprise escapes, a ship flies out from behind another rock and follows them. The Enterprise, which is looking both for the remaining colony ship and the pirates apparently aren’t manning their sensors and just miss it (because the story needs them to miss it).
Ortegas has to fly on manual to get through the asteroids. Previously, she had asked Pike how close she could get, “first date” or “third date.” He responds “blind date.” She smiles and says “Cautious it is.” I’ve been hearing a lot about how this character uses humor lately.
I read an interview recently with Melissa Navia who plays Ortegas and that topic came up. Navia said:
She’s a soldier and pilot, and so much of what I’ve heard from actual soldiers and pilots is she is the most authentic crew member in that her gallows humor is exactly what happens in life and death situations. I see trolls on Twitter say, “She is not professional enough, or she’s not this enough,” which in my gut, I feel that misogyny. So, when I hear from actual soldiers and pilots that she absolutely is doing what they’re doing out there, that to me is the highest compliment.
I mentioned in previous reviews that I found both Ortegas and La’an irritating and obnoxious, although La’an is more motivated by her childhood trauma. Ortegas is just a hotshot pilot who is good, knows she’s good, and doesn’t let anything come in the way of her telling everyone she’s good. Kind of like Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) from Star Trek Voyager.
She put it in her quote above, actual combat soldiers like the character as her personality fits in with someone serving in a war zone. However, I think it’s a bit of a leap to assume anyone criticizing her portrayal of Ortegas is exhibiting “misogyny,” but then again that seems to be one of the defenses every time a female actress or character comes under scrutiny for any reason. It’s also the signal that we’re out of our “honeymoon” phase with SNW and that they’ve stopped “wooing” old school fans like me, believing we’re already “hooked.” You’ll see the really big example of that in this episode in just a moment.
Later, Aspen goes to Spock’s quarters, but not with the problem of finding the pirates. She gives him a somewhat intimate speech about his worry of being half-Vulcan and half-human when maybe he’s neither. This is a not-so-subtle way to address actress Jesse James Keitel identifying as a non-binary transwoman and the theme recurs throughout the episode.
Now keeping in mind that Aspen is a humanoid alien, the description of her character is that she (Keitel’s pronouns are “she/her”) is also non-binary trans. But if she’s not human, would her race by default necessarily conform to what we in real life call “binary?”
As I recall, on Star Trek Enterprise, Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley) was described as having
Phlox had three wives, each with three husbands, including Phlox, resulting in a total of 720 relationships, 42 of which had romantic possibilities. There were 31 children in his extended family, and he had five children of his own: three sons and two daughters.
This begs the question of just how “non-binary” Phlox’s species is in terms of sex and gender.
On top of that, Billingsley claims Phlox was gay. Not sure how that works with three wives who each have three husbands, however…
John Billingsley is not shy when telling fans about Phlox’s sexual desires. “I was trying very hard to suggest he had a polyamorous relationship with the boys as well as the girls. I do tell people I was the first gay character on Star Trek, whether you were aware of it or not…”
There’s also the androgenous species encountered by Riker (Jonathan Frakes) in “The Next Generation” episode The Outcast in which multiple people reproduced through a complicated ritual concluding with fertilizing a husk.
Point being, that whatever race Aspen was supposed to represent would likely have gender assignments/sexuality that would not be very close to human.
I found the article Star Trek: Strange New Worlds’ Jesse James Keitel Explains Why Playing Angel Was ‘Refreshing’ which provides some insights into how Keitel viewed her role in this show. Or to quote her from twitter:
Trans people have a complicated history with tv/ film — but at a time when trans women are constantly vilified, mocked & legislated against IRL, I take pride in flipping the script. Cis actors get to play every shade of good & evil — let us do the same!
In the February 2022 article Meet the Lesbian Co-Showrunner Queering Star Trek: Discovery, showrunner Michelle Paradise, who is a lesbian with pronouns she/her, is quoted from the Out.com article:
Expanding Star Trek’s diversity is a common writers’ room topic. “‘What kind of characters do we have?’ ‘Who else do we need?’ ‘What more do we need in visibility?’ ‘Who is not represented?’ And those are…discussions that we have on a regular basis,” says Paradise.
The goal is great storytelling in an inclusive universe that resonates with real-life viewers. “If just one person gets to see themselves in a new way or gets to feel hope or optimism or support or possibility from seeing the show and seeing the stories that we tell, and the actors that we’ve cast…then I will have considered it all a success,” she says.
In other words, the de facto purpose of Star Trek Discovery is representation, up, down, and sideways. Okay, fine. There are a lot of shows, movies, literature, and even comic books where representation is front and center. I may sound pretty “phobic” to some people but to quote a meme:
Audiences don’t hate diverse characters.
What they hate is being slammed as bigots for rejecting bad work from pretentious, unskilled activists posing as writers.
If the demography of your characters becomes more important than the story, your story will probably suck.
That is my exact point in bringing all of this to the forefront.
But back to the episode.
The Enterprise finds what appears to be the last colonist ship. For whatever reason, sensors aren’t picking up what’s inside (because the story needed it to happen that way), so Pike, La’an, and two other anonymous crew members beam over. They find what looks like a derelict warehouse, complete with rusting metal beams, but also some device no one notices.
On the Enterprise, they now detect a field that blocks communications and transporters. On the colony ship, pirates appear from the rafters and take the landing party prisoner. What? No one had a tricorder? In the previous episode, La’an chewed Uhura out on a landing party mission when she didn’t use her tricorder to scan a panel. Sloppy security work, La’an (or bad writing).
On the Enterprise, the pirates have beamed aboard without sensors detecting them. What? In more episodes of more parts of the Star Trek franchise than I can count, the computer always detects intruders, sounds an alarm, and calls out their location. Guess what needed to happen for the sake of the plot?
Chapel is walking down a corridor and sees them, then takes refuge in a Jefferies tube (first appearance of one). The pirates attack the bridge and there’s a rapid phaser fight. Number One is wounded but not before she activates a security lockout so the pirates can’t take control of Enterprise. In defense of Aspen, Spock neck pinches and beats the shit out of several pirates. Aspen is wounded, so Spock gets her into a turbolift and they escape.
Down another corridor toward sickbay, Spock is wielding a phaser rifle. They see pirates escorting the captured bridge crew supposedly to the transporter room and also hide out.
Chapel, trying to access a comm panel, is almost captured by two pirates. She turns on the “scared little girl” act and then uses a hypospray to knock them both out. I have to say that their being aliens, it’s amazing that our drugs don’t have differing effects on non-human species. Also, Chapel’s pretty tough.
Meanwhile, on the colony ship, Pike is being beaten so he’ll give up the lockout code for the Enterprise. A few punches aren’t really going to phase him. Although the pirate leader Remy (Michael Hough) threatens Pike’s crew, the fastest way to get a Boy Scout (Number One said that reference is in his official Star Fleet records) like him to talk, is to take one of his crew and start seriously torturing that person. Making La’an or one of the other landing party members “squeal like a pig” would pretty much do it.
Instead, Pike turns on the charm, insults their food, and says they’d all be happier talking over a meal. Pike’s cooking skills are much better than his negotiating abilities bcecause they should have seen this coming a light year away. Instead, Pike manages to whip up something from whatever the pirates have on board. If it’s alien food, the pirates can metabolize it, but how does he know what does and doesn’t taste good to them? Who is he, Remy (voice: Patton Oswalt) from Ratatouille?
While talking with (pirate) Remy, Pike maneuvers him into thinking he wants to sell the Enterprise crew to the Klingons (by now, everyone from the Enterprise except Spock, Chapel, and Aspen have been captured and are being held along with the landing party). Pike knows the pirate crew think it’s too dangerous to deal with the Klingons because that’s how you get dead.
Number One recognizes this as something called “Alpha Braga 4,” which apparently is code for “get the enemy crew to mutiny.”
After treating Aspen in sickbay, Spock gives her a hand phaser and takes one for himself (where did his phaser rifle disappear to I wonder?). She told him her tragic backstory about her Vulcan husband having been captured and killed by these pirates. She says she came to this part of space to help colonists and to honor her departed spouse.
They proceed to Engineering where Spock’s plan is to disable the security lockout, transfer command functions to Engineering, and send a distress call to the Federation. Once there, they find Chapel who, having knocked out another couple of pirates, trying unsuccessfully to call for help.
Spock disables security and tells Chapel to send the distress signal. Then everything goes sideways. Aspen is the real pirate Captain Angel and is having a grand old time. She takes control, beams some pirates over, and captures Spock and Chapel. She also said she didn’t come for the Enterprise, she came for Spock.
It was all too easy for her to fake her story. There were no colonists. It was all a trap. Everyone accepted it hook, line, and sinker, especially Spock.
On the bridge, Angel calls T’Pring and tells her she wants a prisoner exchange, Spock for her captured Vulcan lover. She initially refuses but ultimately when the Enterprise gets back to the edge of Federation space, T’Pring’s ship is there, prisoner on board.
Wait! Pike said it would take two days for a signal to reach the nearest Federation outpost. The Vulcan planets, colonies, and penal facilities are in Federation space, but Angel and T’Pring had a conversation in real time. What? Yet another plot hole alert!
On the bridge, Spock cooks up a plan and tells Chapel to play along. He stops T’Pring from doing the prisoner exchange, admitting he’s been having an affair with Chapel. Angel isn’t buying it for a minute, but then Spock and Chapel engage in this long, really passionate kiss which they both seem to really enjoy.
Angel calls bullshit, but T’Pring seemingly buys it. If they are no longer engaged, T’Pring has no motivation to save Spock. She and Spock engage in a brief ceremony (you’ve got to be kidding) to dissolve their relationship and then she breaks the comm link, leaving Spock to his fate.
A furious Angel orders T’Pring’s ship destroyed. Now hold on. T’Pring’s prisoner, who is on that ship, the man she says she loves (a Vulcan who has abandoned logic and who has embraced emotion) will be blown into atoms if the Enterprise cuts loose with phasers. I guess love is fickle or SNW writers once again sacrificed good storytelling for serving a silly plot.
But not to worry. Phasers, propulsion, and shields go down. The colony/pirate ship appears out of warp firing on Enterprise. Pike and crew have taken over the other ship and Number One used a back door to the Enterprise computer to lockout command functions again.
Previously, we saw Aspen/Angel toying with a necklace, at one point even getting Spock to put it on her in yet another act of manipulating his feelings (which she’s been doing through the entire episode). Turns out, it activates a personal transporter. She beams to a nearby, hidden ship (apparently, they’re everywhere), and warps away before anyone can stop her.
Meanwhile, the pirate mutiny is threatening Pike and the Enterprise crew, so Spock beams them back to the Enterprise.
That part is really glossed over. How many transporter rooms does the Enterprise have and even if Spock can automate the process (why have actual transporter chiefs present if that’s possible?), how long would it take to beam hundreds of people back on board? Another in an expanding list of writing errors.
With the pirates in the custody of Star Fleet, Pike briefly celebrates “talk like a pirate day” for a moment, which is his worst “Dad joke” to date.
Spock and T’Pring renew their vows in his quarters and have sex (although we don’t know if it’s Vulcan sex, human, or a combination).
Later in sickbay, Spock applauds Chapel for her “performance” in kissing him. Earlier, even T’Pring says that Spock’s human side was a strength in “faking” such a passionate embrace with Chapel, who T’Pring believes would never be attractive to Spock.
Chapel is visibly upset but Spock is too stupid to notice. She really did find meaning in kissing Spock, but of course denies it, saying that they’re really good friends. She likes Vulcans because they’re honest. That’s something that Chapel (Majel Barrett) said to Spock (Leonard Nimoy) in The Naked Time when, because of a disease that suppressed inhibitions, declared that she loved Spock. In this case, it’s ironic because she’s lying through her proverbial teeth.
Spock also admits that he knows which prisoner Angel wanted released. Ambassador Sarak, Spock’s father, had a child “out of wedlock” (whatever that means in this version of Vulcan culture). The Vulcan who had abandoned logic and who is Angel’s lover is Spock’s half-brother Sybok.
We last saw him in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier played by Laurence Luckinbill.
Conclusion: More huge plot holes and the first real example of what is called “representation” in SNW on both the level of the character of Angel and the actress Keitel. As I said, it loses it’s punch on the character level because non-human characters don’t have the same sexual or gender construction as human beings. While SNW was supposed to be a call back to at least faintly echo the “Star Trek” of old, we see that you can’t bring the 1960s into the 2020s.
So, SNW writers and showrunners, don’t pretend you’re trying.
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